Lana Del Rey Will be Your Mirror: Concert Review

Kyleen James
Complaining about Lana Del Rey’s voice is like kvetching that Bob Dylan sings out of tune… The play’s the thing here, not the vocal pitch.

Lana Del Rey's deadpan manner is the point... As the daughter of advertising executives, she understands the use of imagery in selling product, in this case, herself.

Whoever thought booking Lana Del Rey in this cavernous hall adjacent to the Shrine Auditorium– a huge space rimmed with balconies – was a good idea had more business than artistic sense, especially the idea of cramming as many bodies as possible in this ancient venue.

Packed into the sold-out space were about 5,000 selfie-equipped fans, swooning over their poor little rich girl, a debutante in her vintage thigh-high pink baby doll dress and silver sandals, dropped onto her palm tree-strewn set with a giant rattan chair in the middle, like Fay Wray delivered into King Kong’s arms on a deserted island.

Backed by a four-piece band that periodically cut through the oversized hall, Del Rey seemed even smaller and waif-like than she does in real life, and the echoing venue did no favors to her quavering, bird-like voice, already the subject of much controversy. Still, the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant appeared a lot more at ease center-stage than she did in her infamous deer-in-the-headlights appearance on Saturday Night Live for this brisk, 15-song, 70-minute set. 

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The crowd roared when she sauntered on-stage to the strains of “Cruel World,” the leadoff song on her upcoming album, the Dan Auerbach-produced Ultraviolence, backed by a video screen that registered a series of the kind of nostalgic-tinged images of an idealized, yet distant, past for which she’s become known – icons like Marilyn Monroe and a visual of Psalm 51 for “Body Electric,” her own visage engulfed in flames for the new “West Coast.”

Born in New York to parents involved in the advertising business, Del Rey is nevertheless the quintessential L.A. artist in that she understands the power of imagery – Auerbach says she approaches her music like an art project. Aloof, a blank Rosetta Stone upon which others can project their own fantasies – she’ll be your mirror – Lana drifts to the front of the crowd for some uncharacteristic human contact, and by the time she gets to the dirge-like “Born to Die,” the crowd starts singing along, making her own vocals thankfully superfluous.

“Ultraviolence,” with its twangy Chris Isaak “Wicked Game” guitar and A Clockwork Orange reference, sports the classic refrain, “Cause I’m your jazz singer/And you’re my cult leader,” as well as playfully quoting the Phil Spector-produced Goffin-King lyrics recorded by The Crystals, “He hit me and it felt like a kiss.”

Yes, folks, Lana Del Rey is nothing if not self-consciously aware of her appeal and what she’s trying to do  -- a song on the new album is called “Fucked My Way Up to the Top,” and while sensuous and alluring, that’s probably the last thing she would do – like Monica Vitti in L’Avventura, Lana’s more about alienation than copulation, more about the idea of sex than the act itself.

Still, the crowd, huddled like spectators at the Old Globe tossing oranges down on the hordes below, sing along to “Carmen” and the immolating backdrop to “Gods & Monsters,” the twinkling lights of San Fernando Valley bathed in post-apocalyptic fire.

“Young and Beautiful” is next, the melancholy runaway smash from The Great Gatsby that she reportedly sung at Kanye and Kim’s recent wedding celebration at Versailles, where she let them eat cake with all the hauteur of Marie Antoinette at her most privileged.

Still, Lana is primarily an ironist, scatting along to the keyboard accompaniment of “Million Dollar Man” like Michelle Pfeiffer in The Fabulous Baker Boys, short of spread-eagling on the piano itself.  She wanders back into the crowd for “Summertime Sadness,” but there’s a distance in her bonhomie, obvious even from my perch at the opposite end of the stage high above the fray, the chill still palpable.

STORY: Lana Del Rey Taps Black Keys' Dan Auerbach to Produce 'Ultraviolence'

“Video Games” and “National Anthem” are tongue-in-cheek attempts to commodify pop’s appeal, to turn sex, drugs and the art of commerce itself into symbols, surrounded with air-quotes. That doesn’t prevent everyone in the place from singing along and striking the appropriate poses. I predicted that Lana Del Rey would be big. But, to paraphrase Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard: It’s just everything else that has gotten small.

Set list:

Cruel World Intro
Body Electric
Blue Jeans
West Coast
Born to Die
Gods & Monsters
Young and Beautiful
Million Dollar Man
Summertime Sadness
Video Games
National Anthem