The much-anticipated Los Angeles debut of New York-based hype queen Lana Del Rey was a tepid and mostly awkward affair. The crowd, though packed to the brim at the Troubadour, was comprised primarily of music industry personnel who lacked any sort of real enthusiasm for the performer; instead of extended applause or chatter, pockets of silence emerged between songs as the audience gawked and sized up the Interscope-signed “next big thing.” The music itself served as an afterthought to Del Rey’s lush-lipped, white-gowned image — a glaringly self-conscious blend of old Hollywood nostalgia and urban modernism.
Entering the stage to a strangely upbeat symphonic string arrangement, Del Rey took control of the mic and launched into new single “Born to Die.” The fatalistic title and wordplay clearly fit into the aesthetic she has groomed online over the past few months. It is an image soaked with sex, filtered unevenly through a lens of noirish intrigue and mystery, though ultimately more Fergie than Faye Dunaway. Del Rey’s voice is husky and provocative, and in the live setting, surprisingly potent, if not always consistently tasteful.
“Born to Die” and “Blue Jeans” found the four-piece band exploring slow, minimalist R&B territory without adding much in the way of melody or texture. In fact, most of the 40-minute set was played with an almost apathetic sense of ensemble dynamics. The group has clearly chosen to lean heavily upon Del Rey’s Orbison-echoed vocals, but they have a tendency to recede too far into the background.
There were a few brief changes in mood during the concert, most notably the cabaret jazz of “Million Dollar Man” — an overambitious tune drifting rudderless through a misshapen stylistic morass. The last two songs of the evening were strange hip-hop-infused numbers that further departed from Del Rey’s key melodic strengths: space and subtlety. At times she was almost rapping, as the band pumped out funk rock rhythms.
Most of the set just didn’t really work, but the clear exception was “Video Games.” The slow-burning, lovelorn track that brought Del Rey to prominence is truly a pop masterpiece. Every moment of the song drips with tension and in the live setting Del Rey really dug into the vocal and nailed it. For those 4 1/2 minutes it was almost possible to forgive every other false start or bad idea that popped up during the course of the evening. Perhaps her stage show is a work in progress, just as her upcoming full-length debut seems to be. But for all the uncertainty of her future, at least Lana Del Rey has “Video Games.”