Life, Death and Lana Del Rey: Live at Irving Plaza (June 8, 2012)

After all of the noise and hot air that erupted from the Internet following her live performances around the release of the album six months ago, I was slightly concerned as I arrived at Irving Plaza on Friday night that a live Lana Del Rey might not actually be as compelling as the girl on record that I so deeply adore.

I was wrong: Television does Lana no justice.

Lana’s return to New York City comes after a whirlwind of change–a number one record, several glossy new music videos, an Ivor Novello Award. The crowd, which was once filled with curious sightseers hoping to get a glimpse of the girl from the cut ‘n’ spliced clip for “Video Games” was now made up with buzzing devotees, giddily discussing their favorite songs on the record, shaming the haters for criticizing her initial TV appearances and swooning over just how beautiful she is.

At exactly 10 p.m., the lights dimmed slightly in the crowded theater as a vintage projection of a dollar bill with the words “Del Rey” flashed across the screen; the familiar surf guitar plucks of “Blue Jeans” strumming slowly.

Out she strolled in a simple white dress to the frenzied cries of the crowd; her wavy, honey-kissed chestnut hair falling at either side of her waist and a giant, glittering pink flower affixed to the right side of her head. Between the angelic get-up, the deep, romantic lighting and the flowery foliage covering ever inch of the stage, she looked like a forest nymph that accidentally wandered in from Central Park.

Onstage, Del Rey recreated all of the best moments of her acclaimed debut, including “Born To Die,” “Video Games,” “Lolita,” “Without You,” the smoky voiced, lounge crooning of “Million Dollar Man” and “Summertime Sadness,” which she sang while bathed in a purple haze.

Every song that night felt special and intimate, especially for the performer herself, who closed her eyes most of the time, occasionally outstretching her hand to the crowd and wrapping her arms around her middle while swaying slowly. Between songs, the singer giggled with her usual Betty Boop-like coquettish coos, thanking the crowd and slowly pacing with such ginger-footed precision that it seemed a single wind machine could send her flying toward the back of the stage.

That being said, she wasn’t (visibly) nervous: Gone was the awkward twirling that has since inspired endless memes, as well as the overly interpretive hand gestures (well, most–she really does love “smoking” that blunt in “Born To Die.”) Onstage now was a bright, charming songstress who was clearly happy to be back home. Her voice was much stronger than I’d ever remembered hearing, and more confident too–she effortlessly launched into long vocal riffs at the ends of songs and belted out some powerful notes that surpassed that of her studio album.

That the audience was nearly drowning out the songstress probably didn’t hurt to calm her nerves, either.

“Ah!” she exclaimed in the middle of “Blue Jeans” to the crowd, “You sound so beautiful!” Truly, the show was more of a singalong than a concert, as the entire audience seemed to know each song word for word–even the male voice-overs from the “National Anthem” demo were being echoed from the rafters.

At a point, the lights dimmed to a cool green as Lana tore into “Video Games,” the mega-ballad that catapulted her from obscurity to overnight superstardom last summer. Naturally, the song elicited the loudest reaction from the crowd, who shouted the lyrics right back to the singer.

The set also included a brand new song: “Body Electric,” which she’s played each night on her mini-tour. Sprinkled with pop culture and religious imagery (‘Elvis is my daddy, Marilyn’s my mother, Jesus is my bestest friend”), the dark new number is as gorgeous, haunting and evocative as the rest of her oeuvre. (No one’s really sure what it’s for, but here’s hoping it’s a sign of things to come on her follow-up.)

Clocking in at just under 45 minutes, Lana’s set definitely felt short (there was no encore, either), but you can’t entirely fault the girl with an arsenal of exactly one studio album at her disposal. Well, and a plethora of early recordings that she may or may not ever acknowledge again.

It’s clear from the public’s polarized stance on Lana Del Rey that her show isn’t for everyone, between her fluttery vocal style, her tender stage presence and an almost exclusively ballad-style selection of songs. And to be honest, she might not win herself too many new fans with this tour that haven’t already memorized the bulk of Born To Die: There are no laser lights, no dancers nor any elaborate costumes during Lana’s sleepy set.

But if you do feel a connection to Born To Die, it’s hard to imagine that you won’t also love the live experience–especially Lana herself, whose stage presence in person is positively mesmerizing.

In the final seconds of the night’s closer, “National Anthem,” the singer suddenly knelt down at the front of the stage and disappeared from view. As the strings of the song drained on, Lana slowly began holding hands, hugging and kissing the cheeks of the flailing front row. She then rose up and crossed to the other side of the stage, giving a quick wave to the crowd and a quick hug to one more audience member to her left. Finally she rose up once more, and glided offstage.

There was no goodbye. There was no encore. Just a few songs, and a lot of love in the air.

Images via Instagram (muumuse), videos via MuuMuse and Karl Is My Unkle.

Born To Die was released on January 31. (iTunes)

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