Live: Lana Del Rey Goes Offline, Plays Bowery Ballroom
by Kathy Iandoli
Lana Del Rey
Monday, December 5
Better than: Rewinding the DVR over and over again to hear "Video Games" on Gossip Girl.
Two years ago, Lizzy Grant's song "Kill Kill," which inhaled Nancy Sinatra's "Bang Bang" and exhaled a more listener-friendly byproduct, circulated online. This year Grant re-emerged, having evolved into the shit-talking pixie chick Lana Del Rey; she earned her butterfly wings when her song "Video Games" dropped into the blogosphere and onto various CW shows, complete with a much-viewed video that combined hazily retro images with sepia-toned shots of modern-day city living.
Del Rey's new namewhich amalgamates those of the late actress Lana Turner and the out-of-print Ford model the Del Reyis strangely appropriate, combining as it does the notions of old Hollywood stardom and a reliable sensibility. Last night she stood statuesque on the stage of Bowery Ballroom, clad in a white dress and tennis shoes, handling her business with aplomb while seeming keenly aware of the disbelievers present.
Perhaps that wary glamour is, in part, the result of the rumored monitoring of her careeror maybe it's just the end product of that chatter still swirling around her. Many members of the indie peanut gallery still question the sum of Del Rey's parts, noting her major-label backing, and while her hauntingly hummingbird-like vocals and bee-stung lips could woo the pants off an entire spin class, it's hard to not wonder if her reinvention was concocted in a boardroom somewhere, that the arguing that ensues about her online is all part of some grand plan.
In September Del Rey played a brief set at Glasslands; the reviews circulating afterward zoned in on her aesthetic, and sidestepped any talk of her ability to actually sing without a Wi-Fi buffer and grainy Instagrammed memories. Monday, however, the music took a front seat.
"It's good to be home," she said while waiting out technical difficulties at the show's outset. When a rowdy crowd member tried ushering the set along, Lana flashed a reckless sassiness, cracking back, "It's comin', bitch!" The set opened with "Without You," which showed off how Del Rey can shift from operatic howls to breathy, nasal coos, then jumped right into "Born to Die," the title track to her Interscope debut (arriving January 31). This time out, she sang its climactic line as "let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain," even though the verb has been changed to "kiss" for the single version.
The greatest roars arrived when Del Rey went into "Blue Jeans" and, three songs later, "Video Games." ("Radio," a song Del Rey said she's stopped liking, was one of the tracks in between.) Live, both tracks sounded as immaculate as their streaming counterparts, displaying a range previously absent from her other live sets. The remainder of the show included more new materialor, as she put it, "practice." On tracks like "Summertime Sadness" and "You Can Be the Boss," her vocals meshed well with her backing band, whom she introduced proudly. She even complimented herself a few times, telling the audience how great she sounds on her new album. Once the closing blips of "Off to the Races" had faded out, Del Rey advised the crowd that there would be no encorebut she'd be back for another show in the very near future.
It's easy to succumb to the browbeating of an artist like Lana Del Rey, and hard not to note that she looks very good while deflecting invective. But the comment-board fights and blog posts don't detract from the fact that she can actually sing. Del Rey's retro-prom queen shtick may eventually lose its lusterbut her developing voice will carry her much further than her long legs.
Critical bias: Anyone who refers to herself as a "gangster Nancy Sinatra" is a she-ro in my book, paper-dolled career or not.
Overheard: "I came here strictly for her lipsthe music is an added bonus."
Random notebook dump: Skylar Grey changed her name from Holly Brook and got a high-profile relaunch, too. What's in a name, music industry?
Born To Die
Million Dollar Man
You Can Be the Boss
Off to the Races