Lana Del Rey, at Home Among Late Silent Film Stars at Hollywood Forever Cemetery: Concert Review

Shannon Cottrell
The ice queen has thawed, with her many minions delightfully drowning in the runoff

Lana Del Rey, born Elizabeth Grant, has carefully constructed a swooning, vintage showwoman persona — one who romanticizes death, conflates love with danger, and seems to continuously ache for fame and grandeur. The construct was flimsy when she first broke out, painfully, on the Saturday Night Live stage in 2012, before she felt comfortable in the mask. Critics saw through the costume and doubted there could be anything truly genuine about the singer formerly known as Lizzy Grant. But three albums and a lot of live shows later, Del Rey inhabits her character with ease, shrugging into the skin of this sorrowful lounge singer who is equal parts silent-era film starlet and ‘60s pop singer.

It was clear Oct. 17 at Hollywood Forever Cemetery that Del Rey is no longer a character, but an icon, mostly because her fans are as deeply invested in the act as she is. The singer’s stage seemed almost part of the location itself — the palm trees onstage mirrored by the cemetery’s own towering trees, which invoke the glamor and history of Hollywood. Her baroque candles, which littered the stage, were juxtaposed by the illuminated tombs and gravestones nearby. It’s a stage set-up she’s been using on her current worldwide tour, but it felt at home in this venue, connected to the scenery that already existed there. There is no more perfect place for Lana Del Rey and everything that comes with her than Hollywood Forever.

That sensibility seemed to fuel the fans, who worship at the altar of Del Rey. Most in their late teens and early ‘20s, the crowd carried bouquets of flowers and wrapped gifts, and held signs aloft. The biggest sign read “This Is Happiness.” There was no phone that wasn’t held in the air the moment the singer appeared, no one who didn’t shriek with excitement when Del Rey walked to the edge of the stage, smiled, waved, and simply uttered, “Hi.” Clad in a flowing pink and red floral dress that seemed pulled from a Hollywood vintage shop, with hair perfectly coifed, the singer embraced her role as the bashful star, one who craves the attention but refuses to beg for it.

The set list, a scant 14 songs, leaned less heavily than expected on Del Rey’s recent album Ultraviolence, a dreamier collection than her 2012 breakout Born To Die. Intimately gloomy numbers from the new album, like “Cruel World” and “Old Money,” were invigorated onstage by Del Rey’s skillful band, especially her guitarist, who transformed her synthetic recorded tracks into electric jolts of sound. But Del Rey’s focus was on Born To Die songs, whose more inherent energy makes sense for a live performance. Her emotionally evocative rendition of “Born To Die,” a haunting indie pop number, drew out the song’s chilling core, allowing the melody to leave its impact on the audience slowly and heavily.

Del Rey was on point for most of the set and it was clear she could feel it herself. Before singing the achingly lovely “Body Electric,” from her 2012 EP Paradise and featured in her short film Tropico, she acknowledged how far she’s come. “Whenever we do this song it brings me back to the premiere for Tropico,” Del Rey said, referring to last December’s unveiling at the Cinerama Dome. “It really feels like, in a way, we’ve really come full circle.”

Throughout the performance, Del Rey played on the crowd’s expectations of her. She dangled a cigarette from her fingers, glided around the stage with a sultry shimmer, and groped her leather jacket-clad guitarist as he dove through a surging guitar solo. She encouraged everyone to join her in song. After “Old Money,” one of Ultraviolence’s standouts — both for its haunting chorus and its compelling lyrical narrative — she smiled and said, “It’s so amazing to be able to sing the new songs with you guys.”

But it was all over too quickly. Her headlining performance clocked in at about 70 minutes. She has enough material to play more, so it’s unclear why she cut off her set just as the emotion and flow had truly taken hold. Her set list also omitted some of her best songs — Born To Die’s sonic standout “Off To The Races” and Ultraviolence’s “F—ed My Way To The Top” — and none of her recent concerts have showcased “Young And Beautiful,” the platinum-selling ballad from the soundtrack to The Great Gatsby. There was no encore — simply an ending that dragged out rather than landing with a final impact.

“So we’re gonna do ‘National Anthem’ and then I want to come down and say hi for a second,” Del Rey said as she pulled the show to a close. “If you’re here tomorrow, we’ll see you then, and if not, I’ll see you around.” She meant the first part literally. After performing the song, Del Rey descended into the photo pit and spent at least five minutes snapping selfies with fans and graciously accepting their flowers and gifts, so many that she had to make several trips back up to the stage to haul them all. As she interacted with the audience the band kept playing, drawing out the song into a rock ‘n’ roll jam session that stood in drastic tonal opposition to the rest of the set.

Del Rey and her fans need each other to survive. They feed off each other. It makes sense that she would devote the climax of her show to connecting with the audience. But it leaves everyone else, those who didn’t clamor to be in the front row of the crowd, disconnected. Del Rey clearly revels in her stardom. She, or at least her character, loves the attention, the glamor, the fame. “Old Money,” in its lyrics, reveals a fear that celebrity dissolves with youth and beauty, that everything is ephemeral. But it turns out that Lana Del Rey is more sincere than that, and less fleeting. She has transformed a marketing ploy into a real persona whose lyrics mirror our own qualms and desires. It is telling, despite this sorrow-soaked facade she’s built, that Del Rey spent the entire performance smiling. Everyone else did, too.

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