NEW YORK (Reuters) - Florence + the Machine kick off MTV’s new season of “Unplugged” on April 9 with a show that singer Florence Welch called “amazing” as her powerful voice belted out hit songs like “Dog Days Are Over” in a candlelit room.
The soulful British singer and her backing band taped their “Unplugged” concert in New York’s oldest synagogue building back in December to become the first of eight episodes airing across MTV and sister networks Vh1 and CMT. The Civil Wars and Dierks Bentley also are slated to perform during the new season.
MTV debuted its Emmy-winning “Unplugged” series in 1989, and it became an instant hit by taking singers and bands typically associated with big sounding pop music and stripping them down to basic, acoustic instruments and vocals. Over the years, the show has featured performances from popular artists including Mariah Carey, Eric Clapton, Nirvana and Jay-Z on intimate, often unconventional stages.
Backed by a 10-person choir, The Voices of Rivers, Welch performed fan favorites such as “Drumming Song” from her group’s 2009 debut “Lungs,” as well as the single “Never Let Me Go” from her most recent record, “Ceremonials.”
Queens of the Stone Age’s Josh Homme joined Welch for a cover of “Jackson,” most famously sung by Johnny Cash and June Carter. Welch also covered “Try A Little Tenderness.” Kanye West, who attended the taping with fellow rapper Q-Tip, sampled Otis Redding’s version of the song on “Watch the Throne,” his 2011 album with Jay-Z.
Welch said she was in awe of the former synagogue in which she and the Machine played and where the stage was decorated with dozens of candles.
“I had to stop myself after every song,” Welch told Reuters. “I would be like, ‘Wow.’
“It was so amazing performing the songs stripped back and just really being able to concentrate on the songs and the emotions,” said Welch.
During the show, the soft-spoken singer told the live audience: “This is a real moment for me and to be doing an ‘Unplugged’ session is amazing.”
Van Toffler, president of Viacom’s Music and Logo Group, said MTV and its networks carefully select the artists they invite to perform, and self-promotion, even by big-name acts, is no guarantee of a spot on the show.
“We get lobbied by a bunch of artists,” said Toffler. “We’re quite selective about who ultimately gets to do an ‘Unplugged.’”
“Unplugged’s” striped-down approach suits the hard-to-classify, Grammy-winning folk duo The Civil Wars, who will appear on Vh1’s “Unplugged” in May.
“We’re kind of tailor-made for that,” said the duo’s John Paul White.
“We’re already unplugged!” laughed his partner Joy Williams, who will be seven months pregnant when she tapes their episode of “Unplugged” slated for May.
“Growing up with the show, it’s a strange full circle thing,” said White. “We were talking about how big those ‘Unplugged’ shows were for us, to see our favorite artists in a different, more humanizing light.”
Last year “Unplugged” expanded to include CMT, opening the series to country artists. Dierks Bentley, whose single “Home” is nominated for Song of the Year at Sunday’s Academy of Country Music Awards, will follow The Civil Wars, with an episode of “CMT Unplugged” to air this spring.
“I love breaking my songs back down to their original acoustic foundation,” said Bentley. “When I write these songs by myself or with friends, we just use acoustic guitars ... so, it’s fun to sometimes go back to just the simple groove and idea you had to begin with.”
Toffler believes simplicity and rawness are the keys to “Unplugged’s” lasting appeal. “Either you’ve got the chops in talent or you don’t, and ‘Unplugged’ is not going to hide any blemishes in your capabilities,” said Toffler.
Reporting by Sabrina Ford; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte