Lana Del Rey
See also our Lana Del Rey slide show.
Better Than… peering through the windows of a candy store.
Perhaps as a sign of her growing musical and magical powers, Lana Del Rey brought her own weather with her to Amoeba Music. L.A.'s currently going through one of its driest and mildest winters in recent memory, but the sky clouded up all afternoon, and a light rain fell outside during the melancholy diva's five-song set at the hangar-size Hollywood record emporium.
Storm clouds of a different nature have been stubbornly pursuing the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant, even as her three national and international labels (Interscope, Polydor and Stranger) stoke the publicity machine and her new Born to Die album sprints up the charts. Like Obama fending off the accusations of birthers, Del Rey is dogged by questions of authenticity from a newly ravenous pack of critics who claim to be shocked that a pop singer would change her name and reinvent herself.
But the thousand-some fans who lined up for hours outside the store were just fine with Del Rey's back story, mythic or not. The line stretched more than two blocks down Ivar Avenue, all the way past De Longpre Avenue. The ones who did make it into the store were on her side from the moment she stepped on to the small stage and murmured, “I only sing for you,” to start the show. As she ruefully intoned the opening lines of the first song, the album's title track, several girls shouted out “I love you, Lana!” while others screamed like teenyboppers whenever Del Rey did something as simple as shake her hair. But everyone either gasped or cheered when she sang one of the tune's original lyrics, “Let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain.”
Wearing those infamous blue jeans and a white short-sleeve button-up shirt, Del Rey was dressed down, perhaps in response to that persistent subset of detractors who insist that she only cares about her image. She was deftly supported by just a pianist and a guitarist, but she didn't need much backing. Her rich, sad voice easily filled the cavernous room, rounding off the high ceiling's tinny corners with a suffusion of liquid warmth.
Any fears that Del Rey was merely a studio creation were quickly extinguished as she sang songs like “Blue Jeans” with power and verve. She really wasn't bad at all during her recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, despite the savaging she received in some quarters, but she was more forceful and confident at Amoeba.
She asked for more reverb before playing “Video Games,” but the effect wasn't needed to cover up any vocal deficiencies. Instead, the extra reverb gave Del Rey a deeper and more mysterious galaxy for that dreamy voice to loll around in.
The tragic/romantic “Video Games” was more haunting than despairing, its melody lingering reproachfully in the air, the ghost of a long-lost and steadfast lover. Del Rey steadfastly thanked the overflow crowd for sticking by her during her recent controversies.
She didn't have to mention them — besides the SNL dust-up, the singer has been publicly scolded for everything from her family background to the shape of her lips, with a bizarre vehemence that's usually reserved for politicians.
The backlash might be a natural reaction to the hype surrounding her, but it also smacks of sexism. When Davy Jones started calling himself David Bowie, he wasn't considered a fraud. It was just show business. And did anybody really care or get this worked up when Johnny Cougar took off his face paint and stopped imitating Bowie and mutated into a presumably “honest” blue-collar rocker like Bruce Springsteen?
To paraphrase “Born to Die,” is Lana Del Rey “by mistake or by design”? And does it matter either way? Del Rey appeared to be genuinely happy to be in front of such a supportive audience, especially in the wake of rumors that she's canceling her upcoming tours (apparently in reaction to some of that negative press). She closed with a quietly moving version of “Without You,” as candied chimes of piano circled slowly around her stripped-down, heartfelt melody. In marked contrast to the current hysteria surrounding her, the spare tune unfolded deliberately, without flash, revealing a naked vulnerability.
It is that vulnerability and romanticism that draws her fans to her, but there is also a weird sense that she may not survive it all, that she could disappear again just as easily as she seemingly reappeared from the ashes of Lizzy Grant. For all of the love in the room, one also gets a sense of doom and vague tragedy lurking in the background. There was something genuinely unsettling about the sight of so many uniformed security personnel surrounding the stage immediately after the set. The adoring crowd was passionate but docile, so it wasn't clear if the show of force was just part of the hype machine or a disturbing omen about Del Rey's future.
More photos below.
Personal bias: I feel like I've seen this before, in the cautionary Natalie Wood film Inside Daisy Clover.
Overheard in the crowd: Said one of the cops after the concert: “Nobody gets through right now — nobody.”
Random notebook dump: The world needs a new diva in the wake of Amy Winehouse's death and Adele's vocal abdication.