In order to understand Lana Del Rey fully, you have to go to LA. On the drive to her show tonight at the Hollywood Bowl, the sun is persistent and the warm breeze feels like syrup. Everything is bright and shining, except for you. Lana calls this feeling “summertime sadness.” As we approach the canyon – the part of LA capable of drawing in David Hockney and Joni Mitchell – castles loom on the hill. Like Lana, LA has a propensity for creating its own fantastic, artificial history. Old architecture from other countries has been borrowed, replicated, Disneyfied on these hills, as Italian palaces kneel next to ranch-style houses.
Tonight, Lana’s pairing the 1970s with the 2010s. Wearing a white prairie dress, she steps onto the stage barefooted and begins her set with naked purity. Her, a piano, and the words: “Goddamn, manchild. You fucked me so good that I almost said I love you.”
She commands the stage coolly as though it’s her living room, while she’s backed by two dancers who are far on the periphery of the audience’s attention. Her vision of a Newport Folk Festival for the present era materializes as she brings out Zella Day and Weyes Blood (“oh my gosh is that Haim?” I hear an audience member scream) for a rendition of Joni Mitchell’s Laurel Canyon classic ‘For Free’. Lana’s promised “several special guests” tonight, and the next – Chris Isaak, with whom she performs his baby-making hit ‘Wicked Games’ – is a genuinely pleasant surprise.
It’s difficult to know whether Lana’s audience share her taste in music. Restlessness and chatter start, bewilderingly, during the two songs just mentioned. It’s repeated when she invites Sean Lennon (son of John) onstage to perform their 2017 song, ‘Tomorrow Never Came.’ The only moment throughout the night in which the crowd is reduced to silence is when she brings out Adam Cohen – who has a remarkable likeness and timbre to his father – to perform ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’.
Rather than relying on a kind of artful sophistication, the strongest moments of the night happen when Lana’s backed by only one other instrument. Her older songs, like ‘Born To Die’ and ‘Blue Jeans’, which demand her band’s drummer and guitarist, sound somewhat anaemic compared to their recorded versions: meringue without the cream. You can sense her detachment from them as she asks the crowd to sing-a-long and fill in the verses.
She’s at her most present and best during ‘Norman Fucking Rockwell!’s closer ‘hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have,’ in which she’s joined by the album’s producer Jack Antonoff on piano. It’s clear that, more than any other song on the setlist – which see her guessing at, and performing old feelings – that she’s still in the mood and maw of this particular song. “But I have it, I have it” she sings in her highest note of the night; giving a voice to the strain and precariousness of hope.
Overall, Lana Del Rey’s night at the Hollywood Bowl is perfectly, and predictably poetic. Fireworks pink and purple the sky during her psychedelic closer ‘Venice Bitch’, while the lights above the Hollywood sign blink and bead like the neon flower crowns around her fan’s heads. While it’s clear that the love between Lana and her fans is a two-way street – she often pauses between songs to talk to them and to take pictures – it seems the crowd are stuck on who Lana was, rather than who she is now. This crowd want to scream and cry and holler, not sit and simply listen. They’re not yet willing to give the kind of attentiveness and quiet that Lana’s new and folkier material requires. She was one thing and now she’s something else – but Lana’s yet to be treated in kind.