If Florence Welch, better known as Florence and the Machine, ever decided to follow a new line of work, she may well consider applying for Derren Brown's job. As the bearded wonder was busy hypnotising the nation live on television, Welch was hard at work casting a spell of her own at Manchester Academy.
'Lungs', Welch's debut album, is a rich tapestry of soaring vocals, intricate melodic layers and production effects. On stage, Welch's music is stripped naked. Her support, the so-called machine, is hacked away to just four instruments. The sound is raw; an undiluted performance from one of the UK's brightest talents. The end result is captivating.
Adorned in a striking black robe, the performance is like a smack in the face. Her opening gambit 'Kiss With A Fist' violently sets the standard for what will be a disturbing and enthralling journey into dark emotional territory.
Indeed, Welch's songs can take you to uncomfortable places. Performances of 'Howl' and 'I'm Not Calling You A Liar' confront issues far too complex for a Friday night in Manchester. During 'My Boy Builds Coffins' Welch ominously points to the crowd while suggesting the construction of their two-by-six box is already well underway.
If you were in a particular frame of mind, you might well have been intimidated by the performance. With her burning red locks and erratic dance moves, she cuts an imposing figure. 'Howl' and 'Hurricane Drunk' portray Welch as a woman who has been scorned by life, love and a collection of unappreciative boyfriends. She angrily thumps a birdcage with a drumstick during 'Kiss With A Fist' and the anthemic 'Rabbit Heart'.
There's something unnerving about her performance – as if years of abuse and heartbreak have violently born this beautiful monster. During 'Girl With One Eye'' and a chilling rendition of 'Bird Song', Welch howls into the microphone; her voice is electric with emotion. Seconds before the final chords of 'Between Two Lungs', she raises her arms. The stage is illuminated with a burning white light and Welch's silhouette casts out across the faces of the entranced audience. It's disturbing, horrifying and completely captivating.
It's only between songs, when she cheerfully recalls one of the band's previous sessions in Manchester – a troubled performance as the supporting act for Pete Doherty in 2008 – that the spell is lifted. Away from her tales of domestic abuse, jealously and obsession, Welch comes across as a completely stable human being; an impressive feat considering her performance.
This juxtaposition highlights Welch's skill as a performer. One moment she is re-telling the story of how she met her band manager by drunkenly singing in a club toilet; the next she is weaving her magic around the room in an a cappella version of Etta James' 'Something's Got A Hold Of Me'.
Welch is an undeniable talent. She is entrancing, sexual and a little bit terrifying; a coven witch who predicts the rise of kings and the death of heroes. Be warned, if you go to see her live, Welch will cast a spell over you.