Lana Del Rey At The El Rey Theatre
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By Brent Burns
On June 5 the famous El Rey Theatre stage was transformed into what I imagine the Gardens of Versailles labyrinth must have looked in the 17th century: manicured hedges across the brim of the stage, with spiraled topiaries and gardenia trees framing a microphone stand positioned front and center. Accompanying the lush landscape was a pianist, three violinists and a cellist, all dressed in white as they rested under palm fronds. The usual back curtain was replaced by a screen projecting a firework show of imagery, most notably an imprint of the artist's name as she took the stage, resulting in an uproar from the crowd.
As Lana Del Rey emerged, her look was a stunning ode to her "Summertime Sadness" lyrics. Her hair was "up real big beauty-queen style," with "high heels … dancing in the dark in the pale moonlight." Del Rey's performances are represented by her love of film noir, Italian landscapes, big churches, and roller coasters, but they are more than just a collage of images. Her voice and lyricism call to mind the memory of past stars such as Bette Davis, Nina Simone, and Elvis Presley. Perhaps her initial step into prominence was due to her fluorescent vintage style, which Del Rey calls "Hollywood pop/sad core," but this self-proclaimed "gangsta Nancy Sinatra" has been generating a hefty amount of attention for far more than just her image.
With soulful sounds, seductress grooves, and a no-holds-barred nature, her debut album, Born To Die, introduced the world to Del Rey's voice, which, above all else, packs the biggest punch. Though just a few weeks shy of her 26th birthday, Del Rey sounds like she has endured a lifetime of living, with a voice worn down to perfection complimenting the smoky, shimmering glare emanating from her eyes as she served up a compelling, scintillating performance.
Del Rey opened with "Blue Jeans," a single from Born To Die, which was my favorite song of 2011 and ranks in my top 20 of all time. The chorus exposes someone who's clearly had their heart broken. It also channels a West Coast vibe that takes me back to the days when slow, soulful and gritty hip-hop ruled my radio, while perfectly showcasing her brazenly seductive attitude. Each member of the audience was either singing along or entranced with frozen eyes. What I fancy most about Del Rey is that she's just herself and so obviously comfortable in her own skin.
Del Rey's set included 10 songs featuring singles such as "Video Games" and a new song, "Body Electric." She constantly interacted with audience members, who seemed to fuel her performance as she periodically kneeled and leaned into the crowd, embracing her adoring fans.
"Born To Die"
"Million Dollar Man"
To catch Lana Del Rey in a city near you, click here.
(Brent Burns is the dance/electronica GRAMMY.com Community Blogger.)