We like to imagine that sometime last week, Lana Del Rey woke up bolt upright in the middle of the night in whatever turret she sleeps in whispering ‘Brixton…Brixton’, and decided to book a rare show on these shores on a celestial whim. However it came about, Brixton’s Wetherspoons clientele was markedly more ethereal than usual, as we waited in anticipation to see the high witch herself at O2 Academy Brixton, in her first London show for four years.
Much has been made of her new album being a slightly happier departure from her previous work, partly because of its optimistic title, and also due to the fact that the cover doesn’t show her looking morose in front of a vintage vehicle, but rather drastically instead, SMILING in front of a vintage vehicle. Well, if we’re being brutally honest, it sounds like every other Lana record. That makes it sound like a criticism, but it couldn’t be further from the truth; no-one else comes close to matching her brand of dreamy witch-pop, so why mess with the recipe?
In the week after its release, many were expecting to hear her showcase the new album. Lana has never really been one to do straightforward. She chose to eschew the title track and the majority of the promotional singles, as well as the bittersweet tracks ruing the current state of her homeland (‘Coachella – Woodstock In My Mind’, ‘God Bless America – And All The Beautiful Women In It’, and ‘When the World Was At War We Kept Dancing’ didn’t get an outing), which, with her slightly bleak variety of Americana seeming all the more poignant in a time of Trump, felt like a bit of a missed opportunity. She has always been able to capture the mood of the time infinitely better than any half-baked wokepop attempt.
Instead of the new album, we were treated to a mix of her whole career’s output, with first-album fan favourites ‘Blue Jeans’ and ‘Video Games’ done early on and getting an enthusiastic response from the crowd, as well as the undeniably sultry ‘Ultraviolence’, which sounded like an anti-Bond theme. Her voice was perfect throughout; a languid wooze which floated around the venue, especially during the a-cappella version of ‘Love’ (which came after a hammy bit of theatrics bemoaning ‘technical difficulties’).
A big screen with her videos projected behind her added the cinematic flourish her music has always flirted with. It worked especially well during the sweeping big-hitter ‘Ride’, with the video of her riding on the back of a bearded daddy’s bike into the sunset playing throughout. Her pared-down band were also impressive, making sure her often-delicate ballads never got lost, or fleshing out other numbers, like set closer ‘Off to the Races’ which built up into a crashing finish; the only part of the show which moved the crowd beyond a lucid sway.
There was one complaint; the whole night just didn’t feel very Lana. She waltzed out in an uncharacteristically plain black top and jeans and, though it feels slightly superficial to care, it didn’t feel like we were watching the same witch who lives in the Hollywood sign, who cast spells over Donald Trump, or the daddy-shagging starlet who says outrageous things about being far more interested in inter-galactic possibilities rather than feminism. It was more like we were watching the actor behind Lana do a stripped-back set, which we suppose was ultimately true, but it’s difficult to think of another singer who would go to such a concerted effort to destroy the persona they had gone to such great lengths to create.
After just under an hour, she unceremoniously walked off stage, leaving the audience in slight confusion as to whether it had all finished. We all came away knowing Lana Del Rey even less than we did before, which is probably just what she wanted.
Lust For Life is out now