Boulders, tall grass, and palm trees created a beach bum’s grotto on the stage of American Airlines Center on Thursday night, and basking in the video projection’s faux waves was the quintessential nostalgic California crooner.
Lana Del Rey only let her native upstate New York accent slip a couple of times during her set, and for the hour and a half, she credibly sold the illusion of a better era in sunny Southern California.
Dressed in a floral brocade babydoll dress, she set the scene for a 1970s Hollywood house party where she doubled as hostess and songstress. This Del Rey was not the glamazon video vixen we’re used to. She was simple and elegant, even a little self-conscious — she was without airs.
Del Rey sported a darker, shorter haircut seemingly untouched by a stylist; her makeup was pared down and looked as if she could have done it herself backstage. In addition to a simple dress one might throw on to go out to dinner on Friday night, she wore sensible shoes — despite being thigh-high, they were basic black suede boots.
Del Rey never stopped for a costume change. It was all practicality for a casual evening.
If her fans noticed, they didn’t mind. They showed their love the whole evening in the most ostentatious sort of way. Screaming women and men punctuated her songs with all manner of variations on, “I love you, Lana!” One man yelled “I want to marry you!” across the hushed arena during an a cappella song, which made the songstress crack a smile.
Security guards removed a guy early in the set for trying to cross the barricade, and his struggle was visible from the higher seats. When Del Rey went to greet fans near the end of her set, they lost their shit, crying and screaming at her, “Will you take a selfie with me?” One dude snuck a kiss on her cheek.
Accompanying many of the rabid teenagers were a few sullen adults who complained loudly or yammered over her set. It was a polarized crowd, but for the most part, the fan appreciation runneth over. Del Rey thanked the audience multiple times for singing along as young women in every direction sang the lyrics to the entire set, start to finish.
She played around 20 songs, about half of which came from her new album, Lust for Life, released last summer. The title track, a duet with the Weeknd, was a solid if thin version without his accompaniment. “White Mustang,” about unrequited love, showed Del Rey at her poutiest — the pucker in her lips matched the pouty in her voice.
“Last time I was in Dallas, it broke my heart that I couldn’t get onstage,” she told the crowd. In 2015, she was scheduled to perform with Courtney Love at Gexa. Love went on stage, but Del Rey’s set was canceled because of the threat of bad weather, which never materialized.
“I felt better that if you were there, you got to witness the legend that is Courtney Love," she said. "You can ask my tour manager — I was throwing plates at the doors because I wanted to get out and perform. I had to be restrained.”
Del Rey has been busy over the last eight years, releasing five studio albums. On Thursday, she ran through most of the big hits from each album, "Ultraviolence," "Video Games," "National Anthem" and "Born to Die," to the backdrop of her music videos on the big screen, which promoted good old American ideals of riding a motorcycle down an open highway and walking on the beach hand-in-hand with one's significant other.
Although Del Rey was typically backed heavily by prerecorded vocals, when she sang a capella, only playing her guitar for accompaniment on songs such as “Yayo,” her voice warbled delightfully up to the rafters, clean and clear and sweet as summer.
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Del Rey’s set was largely unpredictable; at times, she asked the audience what song she should play next. It’s a wonder how she found any direction in the massive deluge of screaming that followed. The set was mostly off-the-cuff, and other set lists published online varied from what she performed Thursday.
Sadly, she shortened some of the best songs in her catalog, such as “Black Beauty” and “Young and Beautiful,” to less than a minute, and she maddeningly dropped what’s arguably the best song on her new album, “In My Feelings,” to a 15-second a capella version before switching gears to something else.
She redeemed the set with “Summertime Sadness,” craftily placed second to last, which kept fans around until the end.
Del Rey's show was mellow, and she didn't dance, aside from a couple of hip swings, leaving the job up to two female backup singer-dancers. But what she lacked in energy, she made up for in atmosphere. Between the visuals and her sad, dreamy beach pop, it was difficult not to get washed away into her world.