“It’s so good to see so many familiar faces,” coos Lana Del Rey, shielding her eyes from the blinding spotlights so that she can better see her fans. It’s one of the many times she’ll address the front row like an actress at a stage door rather than, say, a global pop star playing her first show in London in four years.
It’s a typical Lana move, learnt from the same place she picked up those tragic mythologies that lie at the heart of her music: Hollywood. Although she’s dialled back the iconography tonight, opting for black jeans and top over all those dresses she sings about, the performer born Lizzy Grant knows that it’s what you withhold, not what you give away, that’ll make them love you, really love you.
Take, for instance, the way her two backing singers rotate like roadhouse dancers on pedestals during Cruel World, while she clasps her hands or else she tips the microphone, gracefully, to the crowd. During a rare performance of Born to Die highlight Ride, the disconnect between the video projection, in which Del Rey (playing a truck stop prostitute no less) throws her arms aloft in ecstasy, and the coyness of her onstage performance is striking. Not that it matters. From the orchestral strings of Born to Die to the ringing surf guitars of Video Games to any number of those quotable lyrics that form the foundation of her heightened, humid worlds, the pop cultural set dressing more than makes up for a live performer who seems stuck permanently in close-up.
But there’s another, more pointed act of holding back, too. During the languid Cherry, a Lust for Life album track that her fans have already learned by heart, the screen behind her oscillates between golden ticker tape and visual snow. When she said that she’d rather perform in front of static than the American flag, she meant it.
Elsewhere, the set leans heavily on Born to Die scene stealers with relatively little new material – and you can see why. An awkward conferring between artist and pianist during the first bars of Lust for Life opener Love suggests the band are a few rehearsals shy of being ready. “I’m just going to do it a cappella for you,” she says, decisively. The three minutes that follows demonstrates her vocal range and tone exquisitely, but the power comes from this profound moment of reveal, made all the more revelatory for the restraint that preceded it.
As the leather-jacketed live band tease out a Bourbon-soused psych instrumental during set closer Off to the Races, Del Rey descends the stairs into the crowd to sign autographs and accept bouquets of flowers. Then she blows a kiss and is gone. No encore, no Lust for Life, certainly no guests. We’re left wanting more, but hell, isn’t that the point.