[MUSIC: Live Review] Lana Del Rey
Lana Del Rey
The Enmore Theatre
Thursday July 26
Lana Del Rey’s first major performance after hype went into overdrive, on Saturday Night Live in January, was universally slammed. NBC’s Brian Williams called it “one of the worst outings in SNL history”, fellow muso Juliette Lewis said it was like “watching a 12-year-old in their bedroom” pretending to perform, and YouTube comments – well, why give them more space. Highlighting questionable priorities with some unfortunate sentence structure, Del Rey defended her performance in Rolling Stone – “I thought I looked beautiful and sounded fine” – but her following Australian tour was cancelled quick-smart. All of this made her re-scheduled appearance as delightful a prospect for the schadenfreuders amongst us as it was for the fans. For the record, I count myself as both.
The soundsystem was playing the theme to Married With Children across an over-excitable crowd when some eyelashes, lips, hair and flowers finally swanned onto the stage: “I’ve been waiting to get here,” she purred. We all know Del Rey by now: a sexed-up, DIY, Monroe-meets-Jackie-meets-trailer-trash faНade invented (gasp!) by songwriter Lizzie Grant. Character-work has existed in pop music since pop music was a thing, and as much as the internet hated being hoodwinked, the LDR dilemma cut deeper than that: while the personas adopted by Nicki, Gaga and BeyoncО hurl some fierce feministas at the male gaze of the music industry, Del Rey was simply hamming up the sex, singing songs from the perspective of a damaged, weak woman who batted her lashes at jerks as if feminism wasn’t a thing. And on stage tonight, with the screen behind her featuring footage of herself in various curve-enhancing poses, the importance of her image to her music couldn’t have been more obvious.
The surprising part? Lady can sing. With a backing band led by keys and a string section (and, notably, without a drum in sight), the pared-back and chilled-out orchestral arrangements lent the brilliant tracks from Born To Die a grandiose, melodramatic air that was more ‘Video Games’ than ‘Diet Mountain Dew’. For the most part Lana was centre stage, spotlighted and still (save occasional sweeping hand gestures), framed by ferns, palms and pot plants, and really, really attractive. She wasn’t stilted or awkward or flat at all, and she embellished melodies with confident vibrato flourishes. It was only when she jumped down into the photographer pit to flirt “in the flashbulbs of your pretty cameras” that her voice faltered or was lost completely – which was worth it when Del Rey re-emerged from the throng during her rendition of ‘Heart Shaped Box’ (“You do know the song is about my vagina right?” tweeted Courtney Love last week, when she heard about the Nirvana cover) brandishing a koala bear carrying an American flag. Following a soaring version of album highlight ‘National Anthem’, she picked up the bear again and left the stage sans encore.
So there you have it. Lana Del Rey has a good voice, is very pretty, writes great songs, and can play them live. The backlash to the backlash has begun.