Hanni El Khatib and Florence + the Machine. Greek Theatre. Berkeley. California. 6.12.2011. SLR.

So 2 days before this show I got woken up at 4:15AM by a song. It was a bird. It sounded like Edith Piaf reincarnated as a little sparrow. I wasn’t even too annoyed at being waken up at the time because it was so unusual. It was bold. It was soulful. It was poignant. More than anything it was beautiful; it kicked me into consciousness.

I have been documenting bands for 14 years now. It has to be something spectacular for me to spend my own money on tickets for any concert. I bought 2 tickets to this show when they went on sale. Long before I hit up Hanni about doing this story. Long before hitting up my editors about documenting this show. And definitely long before this show was sold out to a crowd of 8500. I wanted to witness for myself this time around.

I talk to Hanni the day before this, while he was still in Tennessee for Bonnaroo. He sounded a little overwhelmed about all the things he has to do still. Flying back to LA super late Saturday night. Packing up his car to drive up with all his and Nicky’s (drummer) gear early Sunday morning. Arriving at the Greek in time for sound check at 4PM. This is when I showed up. The Machine was sound checking, so Hanni and I decided to catch up a bit before his sound check.

Bonnaroo was his first big festival. You play in the middle of the day with the hot beating sun to people that has been camping out for Lil’ Wayne. Hanni has never played in the south before, but he says it was great playing to old southern dudes drinking beer. He thinks he gave a good first impression. He didn’t have any moonshine there, but he does have it at his house. He then informs me that it doesn’t give you a hangover. I was amazed and said that it also makes a great disinfectant. He comments on how it smells like rubbing alcohol. As much as Bonnaroo was a total crazy shitshow, he thought it was overall good.

Florence asked Hanni to tour with her for 10 dates last November. This show tonight was the first that they have played together since 2010, so this is a fun reunion tour. I asked Hanni what’s changed since last year. He says, “It’s crazy how big they’ve gotten! Since then, you’ve got them at the Grammy’s. She was at the Oscars.”

Florence shows up to sound check finally. There was a group of fans that had the opportunity to see her do one song at sound check. When Florence said hi to them, they were overwhelmed with joy (as I later found out when talking to one of these lucky fans from the photographer’s pit). When she was done, I ran into her backstage and she remembered me being at her aunt’s house last Thanksgiving. She then tells us that she had just gone to the Haight Street Fair today and saw a bunch of great fashion. I asked her if she got to squeeze in any vintage shopping; she shows me the lovely necklace she got.

Before Hanni was on stage, I got to meet Miriam, Karina, and Andrew from the photographer’s pit. It turns out that they were the first 3 people to be in line for the show. Andrew was there at 8:23AM, he hails from DC; Miriam and Karina were in line by 1:30PM and they hail from Mexico. I then proceed to ask them all why they love Florence so much. It’s the same answer as all of my friends who love Florence. Florence is a true artist, and it’s apparent. She answers to her craft; she’s got the voice and the lyrics to back it up. She’s authentic. She also a great performer that gets you addicted for more.

The Greek Theatre was filling up quickly. I have been coming to the Greek since 1995. It’s a great venue with amazing acoustics. I was excited to see my friends play to such a great crowd in a great venue. To a sold out crowd nonetheless! Like all people that came to see a great show, Hanni was a crowd pleaser. I ran into him and Nicky later when Florence was on and all they could say was “Whoa,” with giant whoa faces on. I laughed. They were overwhelmed by the crowd. It was something for them to be in their zone on stage performing, but it was still another to see for themselves how many people there really were when they were out front. I had dared them to cover Wilson Phillips before the show. But they totally chickened out. That was the only lame part of their set.

When Florence took the stage, Miriam (who was one of the first 3 in line) got chills all over and started clapping and singing, like most people in the crowd. Florence gave an inspiring performance in her flowing Gucci gown to an adoring crowd. It was beautiful. It was such a joy to see her perform. It was lovely, like she is. I gave one of my tickets to my friend Eric, who had only heard Dog Days are Over and fairly unacquainted with Florence. I wanted to see what he thought of Florence. He thought she has amazing control of her voice and thought her songs very interesting, especially their lyrics. He also thought the stage dressing and light show were impressive and theatrical. He is now on pins and needles to see how she will develop as a creative force in her career. I, too, am curious to see how this songbird reincarnates herself. You can rest assured that I will be keeping tabs of her career and its progression.

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