MTV Unplugged – A Live Album, due April 9, captures every intimate moment of band’s stripped-back set.
By James Montgomery
Back in December, Florence and the Machine stripped down for a taping of MTV’s venerable “Unplugged” series. And not surprisingly, this presented a rather unique set of difficulties for the usually voluminous band — though not the kind you’d expect.
“It’s such a huge thing, and it was so intimate, and I really enjoy doing things stripped back and having the strings and the choir, it was really wonderful,” Florence Welch told MTV News. “But, what to say in between? I got so bashful. I was so grateful to be there, and I was trying to express that, and it just went into this weird, stilted speech. … It ended up with me trying to talk but not saying any words. … Singing is fine; talking, not so much.”
Then again, we suspect Welch is just being modest, because April 9, Florence and the Machine will release MTV Unplugged – A Live Album, which captures every intimate moment of their performance (“I genuinely hope they don’t include my talking,” Welch admitted, laughing), including stirring takes on their hits “Dog Days Are Over,” “Shake It Out” and “Cosmic Love,” plus a pair of covers: “Try a Little Tenderness” and “Jackson” (with guest vocals by Queens of the Stone Age mastermind Josh Homme).
Judging from the list of songs, you’d think the “Unplugged” taping was well-rehearsed. But as Welch explained, nothing could be further from the truth.
“We kind of winged it. I felt really comfortable: I’m kind of in my element in that environment, when you’re able to really play,” she said. “The thing I don’t enjoy about TV performances is that I have to sing live to a backing track, because most times they can’t afford to mic up the whole band, so you have to sing to something that’s just going to keep going, with or without you. And performing in a stripped-back sense, with a band that’s playing around you? It’s so organic, and there’s so much freedom to it.”
Of course, her “Unplugged” performance also earned rave reviews from one very prominent guest: Kanye West, who was front and center for the taping, and made his approval known from the get-go.
“He was dancing and really going for it in the front row; it was amazing,” Welch said. “At award shows, you can’t really see anyone, because there’s lights, and they’re kind of far away, but for this, it was just like Kanye was just there. And I covered ‘Try a Little Tenderness,’ and he’d just sampled that for the Watch the Throne album, so I was like, ‘Um, Hi … you kind of got there before me, but I’m going to do this now, and it’s kind of for you …’ He was smiling the whole way through, and I think he’s a total genius, so to have him there was really incredible.”