How to bring Lana Del Rey’s sepia-tinted, sunset-tinged, palm-fringed retro Hollywood glamour to a wet and muddy field at the main Pyramid stage at Worthy Farm? It was never going to be an easy task.
But recent live reports of Del Rey’s ‘Ultraviolence’ tour have been positive and YouTube videos of shows at Coachella and other venues in the US and Europe suggest the singer’s grown in confidence. Despite recent comments to the Guardian and New York Times about wanting to die, she seems to be enjoying life on stage in 2014, basking in the adoration of her fans. Previously she’s seemed uncomfortable and self-conscious in the spotlight; ill-at-ease with the corporate machine and stung by mixed opinions on her background and use of controversial themes of submission, sex, religion, death, sadomasochism and violence. Could she communicate the subtleties of her music, vocals and the nuanced sense of her core text – the American Dream/Nightmare – on a massive festival stage?
So there was a strong sense of apprehension on the walk to the arena, and a hope that she’d be OK on stage. It’s also pretty uncomfortable for the audience to watch a performer in distress. Del Rey deals in terror and tragedy and even though she’s one of the biggest pop stars in the world, her projected fragility – which I think we can now safely say is completely genuine – creates an emotional connection with her fans. And it’s powerful.
At her Glastonbury show they are utterly swept up in it. Del Rey entered the stage as if she was entering her local corner store, sauntering nonchalantly, until she saw the enormous crowd before her, perhaps the biggest of her career. A gulp and a flicker in her eyes suggested so. From the off she was a mixture of completely contained and confident while oozing the pain, beauty, rage, fears and romance of her set.
If there was any doubt that she could own the biggest stage at the festival, these dissolved straight away. If there was any doubt that she can’t sing live, this dissolved even faster. Her voice throughout the set was pitch perfect, strong, rich and vibrating with emotion. Such is Del Rey’s vocal skills that she can communicate a diverse spectrum of human experience by the way she sings simple, four-letter words like ‘pain’, ‘dreams’, ‘breathe’, ‘bad’, ‘mean’… She changed her expression rarely, occasionally smiling at the audience, but her Warhol-ready face communicated the numbness of heightened feelings even more powerfully than if she’d been screaming or grimacing. One flicker of her heavily-made up false-lashed eyes here, a flick of her tattooed hands, topped with rouge talons, there… this was how she brought the nuance to the Pyramid Stage.
“It’s amazing to be with everybody today, it’s so exciting,” she said, though at times she seemed close to tears, particularly at the end, though it seemed like she was more overwhelmed than uncomfortable. Did she enjoy it? It was really hard to say. But the power of her often expressionless blank canvas, is that it lets fans project their lives and stories on to it.
‘Cola’ kicked off the set and immediately songs from ‘Born To Die’ and ‘Ultraviolence’ sounded much heavier, with a guitarist – wearing a School Of Seven Bells t-shirt – breaking out crunchy solos that squealed dramatically. Drums, a grand piano, another guitar and a synthesiser made up the rest of the band. During ‘Body Electric’ she crouched on the floor and moved coquettishly – one of the only moves of the set. A technician brought her a couple of fags which she smoked on and off but if these were nerve-induced cravings, you wouldn’t have known. ‘Blue Jeans’ was a highlight with the chorus – “I will love you till the end of tarrrrmmm” – filling what seemed like the whole Worthy Farm. The dynamic was pretty much the same throughout – languorous, measured and smoulderingly melodramatic.
Perhaps because she’s confessed to a journalist recently that she doesn’t want to be alive, there was a palpable sense of the crowd wanting her to be OK. There was hardly any talking around me and even guys who looked like they’d be more into Royal Blood and Fat White Family were swaying and mouthing the lyrics to ‘Summertime Sadness’ in some kind of doped-up stupor.
Every song played with a back-drop of her music videos, all flames and tattooed men and hair blowing in the wind. There were shades of Lynch, 60s girl groups in the Phil Spector vein – she references The Crystals’ ‘He Hit Me’ and a spoken word section was very Shangri-Las – and it reminded me of the emotionally intense performances of Cat Power. It’s not easy to make ‘narco-swing’ – her words – electrifying.
When ‘Video Games’ played, it reminded me of the time before all the fashion campaigns, the billions of view on YouTube, the number one album, the crazy stardom, the time when she made a video at home, edited it on her computer, and wrote the best pop song of 2011.