Lana Del Rey was in no hurry.
The singer’s long-overdue Minnesota debut Friday night—the opening date on her L.A. to the Moon tour, at a respectably populated if far from sold-out Target Center—was more doggedly committed to slow tempos than any arena concert I’ve ever experienced. And I once saw Roger Waters play all of Wish You Were Here.
Del Rey’s albums have consistently made Low sound like Slayer for half a decade now, but in a live setting the determination to dig in her spiked heels felt especially defiant. Either you surrendered to the languorous sedation of her sound—the wiry, serrated Ennio Morricone guitars wrapping around her narcotic murmur like kudzu, the pitter-patter of trap beats echoing within through panoramic synthesizer swells—or you deafened yourself with your own yawns. Me, I drifted in and out, impressed conceptually by her commitment to sonic uniformity throughout, though tuning in fully only for my favorite hooks.
There was little razzle and even less dazzle to distract you from the music—no costume changes, no stagecraft wizardry, no cutting edge lighting effects. Given the star’s commitment to artifice, you might expect a Lana Del Rey arena concert to accentuate our distance from her, to play off the otherworldly unknowability of her character. But the 32-year-old singer was friendly and chatty and smiley, even giggly at times.
First Henry Mancini’s ominous theme to the 1962 thriller Experiment in Terror set the mood with a cinematic overture that contains the whole of Del Rey’s sound in embryo. Then the star entered singing “13 Beaches,” the saga of one woman’s quest to find just the right gorgeous locale where she can mope alone in exquisite misery. Mid-verse, she tossed in a very un-Lana-like “What’s up, Minnesota?”
The contrast between the casual everygal banter and the technicolor melancholy of her singing, though jarring at first, had a stranger effect longterm, accentuating the sense of make believe that’s always bugged Lanaphobes, enraptured fans, and intrigued the rest of us. Classily retro in a patterned white dress that reached mid-thigh, her hair framed by a pair of cute barrettes, the star seemed less the ever-Instagram-ready glamourpuss of her videos than like a person dressed up as Lana Del Rey. That, of course, is exactly what the real-life Lizzy Grant has been ever since she first changed her name and claimed Stevie Nicks and Nancy Sinatra as fairy godmothers and proto-goths. But onstage she occasionally stepped outside the persona that she inhabits so fully on record.
The stage was decked out like one of those swank L.A. party patios Woody Allen would parody in the ’70s, with palm fronds framing phony stone walls and lounge chairs set up on raised platforms. Two women in green gowns doubled as dancers and backup singers, sometimes indulging in desultory arm choreo like lude-addled Supremes, sometimes sprawling in elegant woe on the chaises. When Del Rey sang her second number, “Pretty When You Cry,” which flips a cliché sexist compliment into an ambivalent, ethereal boast, the three women lay on their backs onstage, head-to-head-to-head.
Between two fan favorite oldies about doomed love, “Born to Die” and “Blue Jeans,” Del Rey expressed surprise that she hadn’t played Minnesota before since, as she put it, “half of my best friends are from here.” Then came the real news: Her “adorable brother” Charlie is also a Minneapolis resident. Yes, a celebrity’s relative has apparently been living among us in relatively quiet anonymity. Has anybody seen this man?
Maybe the most unusual moment came after “White Mustang.” It’s typical these days for a star to pause her concert a moment to pose for selfies with fans, but usually the band vamps meanwhile, or the star chats up the crowd—there’s something for the rest of us to pay attention to. Del Rey simply strode into the front rows to accept bouquets and pose for phone photos to a soundtrack of silence. The show stopped dead.
When she returned to the stage, Del Rey spookily cooed her take on Marilyn Monroe’s “Happy Birthday Mr. President,” introducing the obliquely “political” part of the show. With “National Anthem” she demanded a lover’s pledged allegiance while deadpanning “money is the reason we exist”; as the chorus of “When the World Was at War We Just Kept Dancing” wondered “Is this the end of America?” news footage of past wars and peace protests materialized on the screen behind her.
Del Rey’s music is shot through with snippets of past pop culture, especially the ’60s. She sang a couple wan verses of “Scarborough Fair” and echoed the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Worry Baby” on the bridge of “Love,” while the hit title track to Lust for Life, her latest album, quotes both the “Be My Baby” drum intro and the lyrics to “My Boyfriend’s Back.” And the video screens that captured the onstage inaction were appropriately black-and-white. This looting of the past for decontextualized content isn’t quite nostalgia—more an acknowledgment of how pop detritus burbles in our subconscious, shaping our desires, just like those unwholesome macho archetypes Del Rey can’t help but lust after in her lyrics.
After she asked for requests and leaned headlong into the crowd blare, Del Rey asked, “Do you think if we do ‘Ultraviolence’ it’ll kill the mood?” Of course not—a song that rhymed “violence” with “violins” exactly fit the evening’s mood. Soon the home stretch began with the career-making “Video Games” and the aesthetic-encapsulating “Summertime Sadness,” followed by another pair of older songs: “Serial Killer” and “Off to the Races.” There was no encore. Our time was up.
Click here to see photos of Lana Del Rey at Target Center
Pretty When You Cry
Scarborough Fair (Simon and Garfunkel cover)
Born to Die
Happy Birthday Mr. President (Marilyn Monroe cover)
When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing
Music to Watch Boys To
Lust for Life
Young and Beautiful
Off to the Races
The crowd: Long-haired teen girls in flower crowns, alternately swaying sadly and screaming wildly.
Overheard in the crowd: “Don’t they do encores anymore?”
About that Radiohead lawsuit: Lana Del Rey showed up in the news two days after her Minneapolis concert, when she tweeted that Radiohead had sued her for allegedly copying “Creep” for “Get Free,” the closing track on Lust for Life. In case you were wondering, no, she didn’t sing the song in question on Friday night.