Photography: John Johnson / johnjohnson-photography.com

Lana Del Rey

Echo Arena 22/8/17

I first heard LANA DEL REY’s gloomy glamorous tones when she released Born To Die back in 2011. I was living through my last year of teenage disillusionment and her emotive drawls of doomed romance and tales of achingly sad girls felt like the company of a familiar and miserable friend. I enjoyed wallowing in pessimism with her and marvelled at her ironic (or not?) feminism-dismissing persona that rattled the critics. She’s maybe the archetypal Nancy Sinatra for the millennials and five albums on, LDR is still taunting the cynics singing about submissive female protagonists; internalised misogyny drenching each album.

 

 

It’s been six years since the questionable SNL performance that flung Del Rey into the volatile forefront of mainstream media and I’m finally seeing her for myself. Walking into the Arena there are huge queues of people who would have been in primary school when LDR rose to fame, having been rinsed through by the internet, slamming her purposefully subversive gender constructs, sinister references to underage Lolita love and her unconvincingly retro persona.

A curly tangle of neon hangs above the stage. ‘Del Rey’ it says, established enough to drop the Lana, having evolved from Lizzie Grant to May Jailer to the dreamy West Coast moniker that combines pin-up American actor Lana Turner and the 80s whip Ford Del Rey.

LANA DEL REY Image 2

The front two thirds of the arena fills up, loads of fans crammed into the standing space taking pictures of the empty stage in front of them. LDR comes on after two hours of us waiting, opening the set with Body Electric. I’m so glad she’s wearing a jumper and jeans because I’ve just walked over from work and look like shit. She’s not the glowering showgirl I thought she would be and have seen her be in the media time and time again; she didn’t rise theatrically from a concealed hole in the floor or lower herself down from a flowery swing in the ceiling and I am so grateful for that, and now I’m as intrigued as the other die-hards in the room.

The visuals on the stage screen take me back to 2005 Myspace; looping vids of tiger heads and flowers opening and atomic bombs and James Dean (obviously). The hits roll over each other in unhurried waves: Blue Jeans, Born To Die, Summertime Sadness, at one point the screens behind her turn into lead-paned windows with rain running dramatically down them and it’s so great – I can list about 20 90s rom-coms with that cliché rainy window scene where the actor outside is sad and wet and heartbroken, it’s the only sensational spectacle in this performance. The whole show is minimal and weirdly intimate in this vast space, her dark and disarming vocals matching the haunting reverbs of the band.

The band leaves the stage and LDR asks for her guitar, which is a big white arrow-shaped thing. She sings Yayo inviting the crowd to join in with this indulgent rehearsal, ending it half way by saying “Fuck it”. The crowds are still and besotted with LDR, completely lost in their world with her when she sings Love a cappella. The set ends without encore; the band emerging to finish a modest and stripped-back performance for Del Rey. Singing solely for her devotees, she remains curiously unpredictable.

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