Photograph by Stephen McGill, The Mod Club 2011
Lana Del Rey is an interesting singer. There is a lot to her that satisfies the wants of pop purists (a signature voice, a style, a message), but these qualities are often challenged by the public. She does not tidy up her act like other pop singers, so she is vulnerable to having off nights. She also showcases her nerves more than a lot of mainstream singers. This has given her both great nights and off nights. You take a gamble with Lana Del Rey, but that is part of the excitement.
The audience was stuffed with floral-headband-wearing teens, couples and the individuals waiting to see which performance we would get out of Del Ray. The teens screeched, the couples gushed and the individuals waited. The very passionate fans were just excited to see her and hear these songs they’ve come to love. The concert goers (these kinds of people that thrive on live shows like they were a baseball card collecfion) patiently sat and predicted how the show could go. We could have gotten the vulnerable SNL performance or the magnificent sets she gave in Europe shortly before this televised event.
We had Grimes as an opener instead of the previous choice of Courtney Love. Del Ray and Love are both fallen angels in music whose reputations are battled by social media and naysayers that try to prove that they are still troubled. With Grimes, we got another similarity– one more optimistic, albeit– as we got a singer that questioned where pop is going in front of a wide audience of pop adoring fans. Grimes feels more and more confident with each year that has been trailblazed by her album Visions. She is still playing songs mostly off that release and they are still working to her advantage.
She screamed and yelped at the Molson Canadian Amphitheatre in between songs, and the scared reactions of the younger members of the audience was like witnessing a doorway being opened; there is now a possible new music avenue for these guests they never had before. For those of us who know Grimes and even the genre she is attached to, we got what we expected. There were schoolgirl dancers and creepy mimes dancing aimlessly to her spooky synthpop. Like she did at Time festival, Grimes changed her songs up enough to give them new life. She had a less elaborate set up here, but it is as though she still felt even more comfortable. Maybe it was a high she was feeling, as she proclaimed her love for Lana Del Ray by stating that she was opening for one of her favorite musicians ever. The crowd danced and paraded along while Grimes’ set made the venue feel like it was a brisk, cool rave party at night (before the sun even went down).
These shades of cool, both in relation to Del Ray’s song and the refreshing take on what a pop concert can be, were linked with a jazzy intermission. Del Ray’s set was full of looming skyscrapers and drowning lights that could blind the most lauded of runway models. It was sleek and classy. This makeover Del Ray has experienced within a few years is exactly what she needed. When she came out in a clean and tasteful white dress, we saw something we usually are not used to seeing her with in recent media postings: A wide smile. She may still have had stage fright, but she was comfortable with this version of herself. Her love of the old, as told by a girl who broke out of both her bedroom and her social media page, has finally made more sense than tribute music videos.
She was a lounge singer in a huge setting. She belted notes but stayed reserved. She spoke very seldom, but when she did, it was her still coming to grips with her success (her confession that she never knew she’d make it out of Lake Placid as a star, for instance). She’s had the blunt end of the stick for years, and it’s a shame. Us concert goers went in expecting Del Ray to either collapse or be angelic and otherworldly, and we had the latter. She changed up her songs with improvised lyrics (changing her wishes for being kissed to suggestions of fornication in Born to Die, for instance) and a slew of notes. Almost every vocal stunt she attempted was pulled off, and were her successes ever so haunting the very second they were done.
Some of us in Toronto were fearful for the worst, but we were proven wrong. We are used to pop singers with confidence and synthetic execution, so someone with self doubt and imperfection is instantly seen as a bad thing. If anything, Lana Del Ray’s shown was as real as a pop show could be. With her backing band jamming an extra long outro to Off To The Races, Del Ray met some fans in the front row and then disappeared with their bouquets. There wasn’t an encore. She left knowing she pleased her army of fans that would do anything for her. With a lack of cameras, maybe her perception of media isn’t as positive. Well, as a writer who paid to see this show anyways, she had nothing to fear in my books. This is the Lana Del Ray I anticipated for since she first came out. She was pure, chilling and authentic. If I was to ever get one of her off nights, I can safely say that this Lana Del Ray exists, and I am glad I saw her open up in a world of cynicism and quick dismissal.