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Credit: Elaine Constantine

You know you’re at a great rock show when there’s a harpist reeling and rocking onstage just as hard as the guitarist.

Such was the mood of wild-child artiness last night at New York’s Bowery Ballroom when Florence + the Machine pummeled the audience with their forceful brand of indie soul.

Even before the British buzz band took the stage, opening act Holly Miranda thrilled the crowd by bringing out surprise guests Nada Surf (yeah, all three members) to be her backing band. The alt-rock favorites provided some easy-going muscle to Miranda’s mournful sound, contributing vocals on some numbers and even playing their own “Killian’s Red” with Miranda’s support.

Excitement levels stayed high between sets thanks to celebrity fever: Someone in the crowd noticed Penn Badgley from Gossip Girl (seriously, omfg), and the sight of him hiding in the wings incited a flurry of iPhone picture-taking activity.

When Florence Welch herself finally glided onstage, her ethereal presence transformed everything. Wild red hair stood out in stark contrast to her wispy white gown, and her whole countenance gave everything a vaguely spiritual quality. The plastic Christmas lights strewn around the stage suddenly brought to mind vocational candles in a cathedral, and the granny drapery behind the band suddenly seemed elegant and baroque.

She basically covered Lungs in its entirety, including takes on “I’m Not Calling You a Liar,” “Hurricane Drunk” and “Dog Days Are Over,” and by the time she dove into the crunchy rave-up “Kiss with a Fist,” it was obvious Welch was just as adept as playing the rock and roller as she was the gospel diva. Flailing around—or as she called it, “wigging out”—and conducting her band with lithe hand motions, Florence Welch gives the impression that she is as much a force of nature as she is an artist.

Not to say she ever truly let loose—actually, her McCartney-esque goofball charm wouldn’t be out of place in a British music hall. But her art—her commanding voice, her yearning songs of redemption—is as elemental as it is exciting, leaving one with the feeling that Florence + the Machine is a band that will be with us for a while.

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