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Live Review: Lana del Rey at Outside Lands

Lana del Rey is nothing if not dramatic. Shrouded in San Francisco’s gray blanket of fog, the artist began her set at Outside Lands under eerie blue lighting as strange, cinematic music rang out to the roughly 20,000 festival attendees who had gathered. A haze of smoke cloaked the stage as, slowly, the silhouettes of the backup singers, dancers, and band emerged ahead of the artist, who proceeded to begin nearly ten minutes late. Now, as she finally took the stage, a simple phrase illuminated the screen behind her in white-on-black lettering: God Bless You San Francisco. Clad in a flowing white dress, Lana del Rey had arrived.



While the second day of Outside Lands was headlined by the Foo Fighters, across the park at the festival’s Twin Peaks stage, del Rey’s set drew a crowd equal, if not greater, in size. Fans sporting heart-shaped sunglasses, giant hair bows, and various artist merchandise began flocking to the stage as early as 11 am when the festival first opened. Del Rey’s performance is certainly a far cry from the upbeat energy of many, if not most, festival acts, but is equally compelling in its own right.


Illuminated by the glow of lighting that faded to a soft yellow before flashing bright red, del Rey launched immediately into an abbreviated version of her standout single “A&W” off her latest album, Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd? It would not be the only abridged performance of the night: the festival’s strict 10:00 pm cutoff forced del Rey to not only shorten many of the songs on her setlist but cut several entirely. Skipping over the acoustic first half of “A&W”, the booming trap beat of the track’s brash second half reverberated across the crowd, who gleefully joined del Rey as she half-rapped the fan-favorite line: “Your mom called / I told her you’re fucking up big time”. From there, del Rey slowed down with several affecting ballads. The songstress' power to evoke emotions was evident in the tear-stained faces and painfully heartfelt, if just as painfully off-key, singing of her crowd. However, and contrary to many outsiders' beliefs, the mood was anything but dejected.


Descriptions of del Rey’s sound as flat, depressing, or low-energy, commonly representing the broader public's view of her trajectory, misunderstand the precise nature of her melancholy. Whether she’s gazing wistfully into the distance on the ethereal “Young & Beautiful”, or lying flat on her back, half-obscured by the rolling fog during the anguished “Pretty When You Cry”, del Rey’s palpable sorrow is not the stilted, downbeat sort, but rather a sweeping, cinematic melodrama that plays out across the 1.5 hours she spends onstage in a dramatic, spectacular fashion.



Equally theatrical as del Rey’s poignant songwriting and evocative vocals were her stage setup and choreography. Full-length oval mirrors sat symmetrically on opposite sides of the stage amidst ornate furniture, curtains of sheer white tulle ruffling in the summer breeze. The onstage screen projected scenery throughout tracks, such as the breezy “Chemtrails Over The Country Club,” during which a backdrop of a deep blue ocean dotted with white boats matched the song’s carefree summer bliss. Imagery from the music videos of singles, including Born to Die’s “Ride” and “Blue Jeans”, accompanied her performance and at times even punctuated it. Turning to face the screen as it projected the monologue delivered at the beginning of the 2012 short film “Ride”, del Rey watched her younger self lament the failure of her artistic dreams alongside the sold-out audience in a heartfelt moment.


Decorated in sparkling silver outfits, del Rey’s backup dancers and vocalists delivered expressive choreography with an exuberance that lit up the stage but felt ridiculous on occasion: the twirling acrobatic dance routine that accompanied the soft piano ballad's "Hope is a dangerous thing for a woman like me to have -- but I have it" felt absurd against del Rey’s heartrending lyrical examination of womanhood and mental illness. While del Rey herself partook little in choreographed dance routines (unless one counts being picked up and spun in the air), she was hardly sedentary. She instead moved about the stage in careful precision—perching atop the grand piano for the title track of 2019's Norman Fucking Rockwell!, swaying gently on her iconic flower-covered swing for “Video Games”, and preluding “Bartender” with an acted routine of sitting at a wooden desk off to the side of the stage, lighting a candle, and brushing her hair in the mirror.


With scarcely over an hour allotted to perform, del Rey spent little time addressing her audience, but, nevertheless, her joy and gratitude shone through. While the singer gave an emotional thank-you to her crowd and even descended from the stage to hug and take pictures with lucky front-row fans, she by and large allowed her music to speak for itself. Del Rey’s magnetic bond with the ardent crowd was tangible as she closed the show with the title track of Did You Know That There's A Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd? where she gazed misty-eyed into the crowd during her pleading refrain of "Don’t forget me!"


Despite, or perhaps because of, the regrettably brief allotted time, Rey’s performance created a palpable, electric current ringing out into the night as thousands of voices joined in unison for the choruses of hits like the anthemic “Summertime Sadness”. At Outside Lands, Lana del Rey encapsulated the otherworldly beauty of her artistry as a whole, distilling its magic and leaving her audience transfixed.


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