Of course we went. The inexplicable press magnet that is Lana Del Rey pulls you in regardless of where you stand. And it seemed the majority in attendance on Monday at New York City's Bowery Ballroom weren't yet sure where they landed on the LDR topic; they were there to settle the case or at least witness the trial.
For those just tuning in: Lana hit big earlier this year with her 'Hollywood sadcore' ballad "Video Games", which propelled the 24 year-old to Internet fame out of what was first thought to be nowhere—then came the scrutiny regarding her background; we learned she was singer/songwriter Lizzy Grant, who previously did not have a glamorous neo-1950s starlet persona or exceptionally pouty lips, but did have a debut LP last year which failed to garner much attention and was eventually swept under the rug, which all suggested she was the well-branded work of a larger entity or label—a turn-off to many of the DIY-leaning blogs that first championed her. All this brings up a dozen questions about authenticity and responsibility in this pop-goes-indie age, but based on where LDR has gone since the initial uproar (magazine covers, award shows, European press tour, the prestigious stage of Jools Holland, etc), it doesn't seem to be hurting her rise at all, in fact, it might doing be the very opposite. What's even more interesting is that these public showings have not all been going that smoothly—she's appeared shaken, mechanical, self-aware, even over-coached and, compared to the singers of present day popworld, or the ones she's undoubtedly striving to recall, her voice on its own (without much of a performer's presence to back it) has yet to fully impress. And yet, it's all essentially become part of the appeal. Now back to Monday, her NYC debut (excluding a secret Brooklyn practice run in September), for a room full of curious eyes and a small but loud segment of truly adoring ones, went somewhat as expected: awkwardly, equal parts compelling and confusing.
It was very much an industry vibe: lots of indifferent faces, professional cameras, old columnist-looking dudes, and a mingling balcony that didn't fill up until two minutes before showtime. And that tone was slightly offset by what can only be explained as a young, mainstream-y fanbase—lucky ones who were able to score tickets despite the press-hold limitations. They didn't care about any of this hoopla, they were there to support Lana's music, or at least to sing along to every word of "Video Games". And in the end, they'll be what will make LDR a very successful act, whether the critics are on board or not.
The theme to Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" sounded as various band members populated the stage. A smiling Del Rey would arrive last, in her cutesy white dress, and after a 30 second delay during which she maintained face by dismissing the commotion behind here as “fucking technical difficulties up in here", she went right into "Without You", a sultry slow-build about being your China doll and finding God in the flashbulbs of your pretty cameras—an irony she's well aware of. This was character development, her the vulnerable subject and us the onlooker, and what strangely twisted in her favor was that we, for the most part, were rooting for her. Any trip-ups from there forward were at least endearing and met with the crowd's positivity. Her voice has improved, flashing confidence in some places, inconsistency in others, alternating between a Betty Boop coo and a huskier bad-girl serenade. She'd preface songs with slightly unsure disclaimers and more sure-footed cursing, all just enough to keep us on her side.
The backing band on the other hand, was a characterless, even-paced machine throughout, which should concern whoever is planning this tour. Clearly hired session players, these guys weren't challenged by the rather simple pop structures and jammed through them anonymously, and unfortunately in broad daylight. The stage was too lit up, where it should have been focused solely on the star of the night. And that she was; somehow, despite the cracks in her image (where a real, excited/nervous smile would break through), Lana Del Rey couldn't help but be interesting. So we're right back where we started.
Born To Die releases January 31st on Interscope Records.
*concert photos by Dylan Terra