Jazz Cafe, London Tuesday, April 10
Outside the Jazz Café in Camden, there’s little to suggest we’ll soon be in the presence of a superstar, as a small huddle of paps and three fans wait by a velvet rope for a glimpse of 2012’s biggest singer. Inside, 150 people squeeze into a venue usually associated with world music, cerebral hip-hop and noodly jazz; Lana Del Rey wants to say “cheers!” to her fans for buying ‘Born To Die’ by giving them stripped-back versions of songs from the album, with just a four-piece ensemble, a pianist and a guitarist.
The New York City girl appears with two bodyguards, and descends a staircase as the strings of ‘Blue Jeans’ strike up. Del Rey, who’s recently been romantically linked with Marilyn Manson and Axl Rose, stokes the fire of speculation by wearing a Guns N’ Roses vest. It says more about her sense of humour than it does about any ‘is she, isn’t she?’ questions, and demonstrates one of the ingredients of her massive appeal: mystery. In an age when stars are more accessible than ever, the 25-year-old’s popularity has a lot to do with her enigma. She’s from the Jack White college of myth-making and, in that sense, her celebrity is old school.
Few modern artists have divided opinion or evoked such outlandish conspiracy theories. Are her lips real? Is she made entirely of rubber? Can she sing? Or is she, as her infamous Saturday Night Live performance suggested, a tad rough around the edges? The last of these questions we can answer now, and offer conclusively that we’re not sure. Sometimes she snarls like Elvis, other times her words get lost in the lower register as she trips on her lyrics. Yet when she sings “I heard that you like the bad girls” in ‘Video Games’, her voice is heartbreaking, beautiful and sad, and her “we were dancing all night” in the crescendo of ‘Blue Jeans’ is angelic.
The artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant looks young, but has the voice of a Deep South, fortysomething, trailerpark divorcée who smokes and guzzles scotch all day. ‘Without You’ is like vintage Tori Amos, and on ‘Carmen’, played live for the first time, she rasps like a modern-day Judy Garland. It’s a reminder that for all the success, she carries a little tragedy with her. Whether she can sing is a red herring. Her mystery and contradictions make her beguiling.