Lana Del Rey
at The Jazz Cafe, London
Mollycoddled by a crowd of silent-with-awe HMV competition winners, Lana Del Rey, infamous nerve-sufferer, created an almost foolproof platform with which to step back onto the London stage last night. Or did she? London's Jazz Cafe is an excruciatingly intimate venue; mix in swarms of journalists watching with baited breath (we may have been out-of-eye-line, she might have seemed blissfully unaware of our presence, but that was complete pretense) and you've got a landscape arguably scarier than the faceless millions of a TV show or an at-capacity arena.
The atmosphere was tense, anticipation at fever pitch. Then, she appears, small and unassuming, before gliding effortlessly through a near-faultless seven-song set, flanked only by a pianist, a guitarist and a string quartet; sans bells, whistles, tattooed sociopathic boyfriends and Vogue-courting sun dresses. The simplicity was almost comically anticlimactic and inevitably brilliant.
The shifty body language might have suggested nerves, but her tightly-honed vocal performance and stoic facial expressions did not; she's a woman in control, perhaps too in control. While performing her now classic trio of singles (Blue Jeans, Born To Die, Video Games) she was fascinatingly on point, looking and sounding precisely the same strand of bizarre as on record and on screen. Even when she seemingly loses control she's one step ahead of you; every deviation into incomprehensible contralto – speaking, singing, mumbling all at once – seems choreographed.
It's as if she flirts with sonic self-destruction to work on your sympathies, to remind you she's out on a limb for you. To witness her veering off a cliff into a musical abyss DOES seem an imminent possibility, especially on lesser rehearsed tracks like Summertime Sadness; should it have happened last night I dare say the enthralled and devoted gays in the audience would've switched sexualities and jumped straight in to retrieve her. The shy bowing of the head, the baby voices, the just-out-of-reach high notes – shrewdly disguised by the classical gloss of the string quartet that would, on cue, momentarily overpower her – makes one cringe with concern. The heart then flutters when she resumes her cocky stride, caressing her face and lulling lines from the infamous live version of Born To Die ("Let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain").
The desire to save her was most overpowering on some unwisely selected album tracks – because, let's face it, there are some really boring ones on there. The set's mightily slow pace and the audience's static bodies might have benefited from a quick rendition National Anthem or Off To The Races rather than the dull Radio and duller Carmen. But that's an issue with sub par song-writing rather than singing, and we'll overlook that as she's written some timeless tracks while still in career infancy.
This was LDR both in and out of her comfort zone, and there seemed to be a general consensus in the air that things could go one of two ways. For the most part she nailed it. Her shambolic Saturday Night Live outing was either fluke or entirely on purpose; given her penchant for strange seduction and growing evidence of a long-term game plan, we're guessing the latter. World tour (in teeny tiny venues) by the end of the year, mark our words.
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