By Rya Backer
NEW YORK – It’s hard to know what to make of Lana Del Rey at first glance. Is she as Jools Holland once dubbed her an “Internet phenomenon” worth no more than a few salacious blog posts? Or is she a legitimate chanteuse wrapped in the hyper feminine, yet innately American (and admittedly well-curated) image she’s projected in videos for such tracks as “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans”?
Regardless of where one stands on the issue, last night at her sold-out show at Bowery Ballroom, Del Rey offered skeptics and fans alike a recital in the most literal sense: she played all the songs she’d practiced, hoping to show both the crowd how much she’s improved since she first appeared – seemingly out of nowhere – less than six months ago.
Arriving on stage shortly after 9:15, looking like a Real Housewife (perfect makeup and blow-out? Check) dressed up for a night downtown, pairing her low-top Chuck Taylors with a tailored, white pleated dress, Del Rey sauntered onto a stage aglow with white balloons projecting the stock footage and vintage-treated videos that would look familiar to those privy to her YouTube account.
She timidly opened with “Without You,” a tune about tortured love, a through-line of sorts in her songbook, and toyed with the microphone cord as she strolled the stage. From there, she flirted with the fans up front and continued her nearly hour-long set with the known (the aforementioned “Blue Jeans,” “Video Games” and her latest single, “Born To Die,” received rousing responses) and the new (from her Born to Die album, which is due out January 31, 2012). Standouts included “Million Dollar Man” – a track so over-the-top dramatic and sexy that it wouldn’t be out of place being covered by Jessica Rabbit – and the pop rock-tinged “Summertime Sadness,” which Del Rey sheepishly assured, “You’re gonna f**king like it when it’s on the record.”
That statement was a theme of the evening. As Del Rey sang with her inimitable voice – modulating between a high, breathy pitch and deep, sultry tone – she, like that sound, wavered between the confident and the vulnerable. She concluded some songs with a nod, a shoulder shrug or a sheepish grin, as if to admit that she’s read all the blogs about her as well and she’s trying her very best to make it right. By the evening’s last song, “Off to the Races,” another innocent-yet-sultry track with a vocal delivery that can only be described as viscous, Del Rey had found her footing as she wandered the stage. At the song’s end, she placed the mic in its stand and declared, “Thank you! I hope you like it!” It was a genuine plea, and from the crowd’s response, Del Rey would be happy to know that the fans – and maybe even the skeptics – liked it just fine.