Lana Del Rey’s star struggles to shine on stage
Lana Del Rey is smarter than she’s given credit for. When she surfaced in 2011 with “Video Games,” a song swathed in strings and shrouded in mystique, she was heralded as a rising star before she could prove it. She made the rounds on late-night television, sparked debates on her back story and authenticity in pop music, and amassed a fanbase eager to shield her from skeptics.
The backlash was swift, based on everything from her looks to her wobbly live performances to her debut, “Born to Die,” which felt rushed when it appeared at the start of 2012.
Last year Del Rey (née Lizzy Grant) did something nearly unheard of for a pop star: She went away. She pursed her puffy lips, kept quiet, didn’t go on tour, and maintained a relatively low profile until the storms passed. It was a brilliant move, one that ensured she wouldn’t be forgotten too soon.
It made sense, then, that when Del Rey performed at the House of Blues on Tuesday, before a screaming crowd that had sold out the venue months in advance, she arrived as a full-blown superstar. At last, she was among us.
“How amazing is it to finally [expletive] be in Boston?” she asked with believable astonishment.
There was just one problem: What comes off as sultry and enigmatic on Instagram and in fashion spreads translated to a static, often stiff live performance that was more about seeing a celebrity than a musician. Accordingly, Del Rey disappeared into the audience a handful of times to sign autographs and mug for the smartphone cameras while her four-piece band riffed and tried to fill the silence.
At 27, Del Rey is not a blood-and-guts performer; her Old Hollywood persona is predicated on fantasy, the illusion that you’re hearing and seeing an artist who’s luring you in, but you’ll never truly reach her. She’s a siren. That partly explained her restraint, both in her body language and her vocal delivery, but it didn’t mask the creeping feeling that Del Rey has plenty of poses — and certainly talent — but not much charisma.
On a stage festooned with tree trunks and branches and battery-operated candles that flickered on candelabras, Del Rey cast a spell that she couldn’t sustain for a full hour and 15 minutes. She seemed overwhelmed at several points, struggling to rise above her band and breathe life into some of her signature songs (“Blue Jeans,” “Summertime Sadness,” “Born to Die”).
To her credit, Del Rey often conveys warmth and compassion with her voice, and her lyrics tap into real insecurities and vulnerability. Emotions ran high during “Young and Beautiful” as the crowd considered its chorus and mouthed every word: “Will you still love me / When I’m no longer young and beautiful?”
Del Rey had her moments, though, including a jazzy, sumptuous rendition of “Million Dollar Man” that showcased her superior skills as a modern torch singer: Julie London with 3.8 million Twitter followers, if you will. And “West Coast,” the first single from her forthcoming album, “Ultraviolence,” had a loose, freewheeling sensuality as sun-kissed as the California lifestyle it evokes.
By the time Del Rey got to “Video Games,” which remains her masterpiece, a song so haunting it compels you to close your eyes while you’re listening, it was no longer about a specific romantic entanglement. It was a musical valentine to the bond between the artist and her admirers: “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you / Everything I do.”