Review: Lana del Rey at the Troubadour
This post has been updated. See below for details.
Cher was Cherilyn Sarkisian before she changed her name. Iggy Pop’s parents named him James Osterberg, which just wasn’t going to work in the mystic realm of rock and roll. And it doesn’t take a genius to know why buxom flamenco guitarist María del Rosario Pilar Martínez Molina Gutiérrez de los Perales Santa Ana Romanguera y de la Hinojosa Rasten decided to remake herself, simply, as Charo.
When the erstwhile Lizzy Grant, 25 years old with pin-up girl looks and Harper Valley P.T.A. hair, descended the stairs from the Troubadour’s second-floor dressing room on Wednesday night, she did so as Lana del Rey, a husky-voiced chanteuse with a story to tell and a hit single, “Video Games,” to back it up.
The metaphorical mask she was wearing was in full effect: accompanied by the frantic theme to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” She wore an elegant evening gown, white with gold trim, and walked onto the stage as the self-proclaimed “gangsta Nancy Sinatra.” Her image as a detached, been-there-done-that seductress has generated in excess of 10 million YouTube hits, a deal with Interscope Records, and enough buzz to dictate some healthy skepticism.
She then performed eight songs over the course of 50 minutes with a dollop of seduction and a dash of smirk, showcasing a voice that’s strong but not yet sophisticated, with a confident, natural midrange that turned contrived at points. The feel suggested Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star as channeled through Ann-Margret, with a nod to David Lynch.
That Grant has yet to fully inhabit the Del Rey character is obvious, but that doesn’t diminish the latter’s potential. She’s thriving for now on the tiny YouTube screen, where her videos for both “Blue Jeans” and “Video Games” present her with nary a wink. Rather, Del Rey stares at the camera and sings to us while fast-edit found footage of Vegas in the '60s, Los Angeles in the '70s and skaters in the present day swarms around her to create an imagistic free-for-all. Is the cross she wears on her neck a sign or a prop? Why are there paparazzi clips in the “Video Games” video of actress Paz de la Huerta stumbling drunkenly mixed in with shots of palm trees?
Del Rey was accompanied by a five-piece band that ably represented her recorded music, though the crew certainly didn’t elevate the room. That was up to the singer and by the time she got to “Video Games,” the song that everyone was pining to hear, her voice and her presence were calm enough to deliver something beautiful and very nearly profound.
The song is undeniable, a lyrical whirlwind about carefree days, emotional indifference and wasting time yet with enough depth to warrant closer examination. When the singer closed her eyes, lost herself in the lyric and dismissively told her lover to “go play a video game,” the actor vanished behind the character — Lizzy was no longer.
But Del Rey has a lot of work to do onstage. In addition to flashing the occasional smirk that betrayed her intention, she lost control of the crowd early in the evening when she engaged with an annoying fan who wouldn’t stop trying to talk to the singer.
Between each song, when Del Rey should have been adding heft to her fiction, she took off her mask and there was Lizzy giggling and sticking her tongue out (literally, a few times), younger and less experienced than the character in the videos, less gangsta and more wanksta.
The character of Lana del Rey should understand that some people are worth ignoring, and that declarations of fan love are better received with graceful, coy indifference than encouragement. Lana shouldn’t have given these people the time of day, let alone precious moments of her performance.
— Randall Roberts
Updated, Dec. 8, 1:07 p.m.: Lana del Rey performed eight songs, not nine, as the original version of this post said. We have changed the above text accordingly.
Photo: Lana Del Rey performing at the Troubadour in West Hollywood on Dec. 7, 2011. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times.