At the PNE Amphitheatre on Sunday, May 25
Past the trees twinkling with fairy lights, there is a land where every girl wreathes her flowing, bum-length hair with a flower crown. And the carnival aroma of popcorn and weed wafts up to the purple sky, shining with springtime mist.
No, this isn’t teenage-hippie heaven. This was Father John Misty and Lana Del Rey at Vancouver’s PNE Amphitheatre, where hipster pop queen Del Rey ruled a realm of screaming fans as part of her tour to support upcoming album Ultraviolence.
As theatrical folksinger Father John Misty took the stage, rain clouds brewed over the old red, white, and blue roller coaster track that snaked around the amphitheatre stands. The setting evoked the feel of a run-down theme park well suited to Misty and Del Rey’s faded Americana.
Swooping right into epic ballad “Only Son of the Ladies’ Man”, Misty sounded great—although the absence of his backing band, who help to fill out the sound of his big melodies, stripped away some of his lustre. Armed simply with an acoustic guitar and a country-bumpkin hat, Misty was a bearded fish out of water playing for a pop-hungry crowd decked out like a community gathering of fashion bloggers.
However, not to be dissuaded by the loud audience chatter, Misty cracked self-deprecating jokes (“If you keep pushing each other, then I won’t play this boring folk music for you”) and borrowed a flower crown from the crowd to wear for a few songs. It didn’t exactly bridge the gap, but it was mighty cute.
Then, the lady of the hour sauntered on-stage, announcing, “Hey, Vancouver! We finally made it.” Dripping honey from her bee-stung pout, Del Rey opened with “Cola”, crooning the infamous lyric, “My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola,” among other gems such as, “Don’t treat me rough, treat me really niceys.” Suffice to say, the self-proclaimed “gangsta Nancy Sinatra” could use some help with her rhymes.
Not being known for her moves, Del Rey mostly swayed and slinked around, playing with her Titian tresses, adorned with turquoise roses. Donning a simple black-velvet dress, she was slightly outdone by the silken gowned, look-alike drag queen in the mosh pit. But Del Rey had only to smile in the direction of some fans for them to chant her name, or wave to the audience with her talon nails for 30 girls to shriek and wave back.
Ever since her hilarious SNL fuck-up in 2012, followed shortly by her best-selling debut Born to Die, the dark-Hollywood lounge-singer alter ego of Lizzy Grant has been both jeered and cheered. Here’s the thing: no matter how much Del Rey wants to be the hip-hop–inspired Marilyn Monroe, her awkward live presence and unsteady voice just ain’t it. Her breathy, jazzy croon is still marred by off-key falsetto, clumsy bum notes, and that bizarre, put-on baby voice that oozes an overwhelming sense of ickiness.
That said, Del Rey sounded miles better last night than on record or any earlier performance. Awash in sea-foam-green lighting during the Walt Whitman–inspired “Body Electric”, the songstress wielded a newfound control of her instrument, also benefiting from the sonic backbone of a full rhythm-and-blues band. The achingly lush, melodramatic melodies of “Summertime Sadness” and “Video Games” were obvious highlights too, prompting euphoric dancing and heartfelt singing along, as cryptic clips from Del Rey’s film-noir-like videos played on the backdrop screen.
“West Coast”, the first single off the upcoming album, sounded sumptuous in its L.A.-warm, guitar-infused layers. On the other hand, Ultraviolence’s title track, which quotes the Crystals’ “He Hit Me (It Felt Like A Kiss)”, sounded like a repulsive, creepy romanticization of domestic violence. For the sake of Del Rey’s mostly young, female fans, let’s hope that isn’t the case, although the singer’s past work is already sadly swamped with themes of self-destruction and retro sexism.
Closing on a positive note, the glam-trash siren led her band into an extended, rocked-out jam of “National Anthem”. And although a good third of the crowd began filing out of the arena before the song was even over, Del Rey spent the last few minutes of the show rewarding her fans in the mosh pit, capping off the night by signing autographs for her ecstatic front-row admirers.