The idea of Lana Del Rey at the Mann Center's hilltop Skyline Stage on Sunday sounded divine. What could be lovelier than Del Rey's distantly cool but captivating contralto and her torchy music's cinematic atmospheres, performed against a spring night's starry sky?
Before a largely female crowd fond of floral circlets, Del Rey (resplendent in winged eyeliner) and her small yet mighty ensemble offered both mesmerizing hits (her career-kicking "Video Games," of course) and new fare ("West Coast"). If the latter was any indication of her as-yet-unscheduled album, Ultraviolence, expect haunting, aggressive music and understated vocals that draw the listener into her world with each breath.
Getting that sonic world is crucial to getting Del Rey: slow-core filled with tinkling pianos, thumping tom-toms, and guitars that combine fuzz and twang, channeling an entire world of 1960s production. Music and lyrics are full of references to pop culture from many eras. A tune such as "Body Electric," for example, conjures up images from the rich history of film noir. Through airy ambience, Del Rey conjures images of ribald sexuality ("Cola"). A smoky decadence came through in "Million Dollar Man," with her band stripped to a jazzy combo and her voice low and gritty, as if reminiscent of Billie Holiday.
Don't let the shadow-play fool you. Although her lyrics were often snide and her arrangements dusky, she also inhabits the sunny feel of California cool, its light as well as its dark. Take "Summertime Sadness," in which she's "cruising down the coast" with her "bad baby by my heavenly side." The next line: "If I go, I'll die happy tonight."
There's nothing cutesy about Del Rey's vibe or voice. This isn't an age thing (she's 27). Her demeanor just happens to be closer to Julie London than Katy Perry. "Young and Beautiful" perfectly conveyed Del Rey's Cali-cool and mature, bruised emotionalism. Ripe with Bel Air's crazy days and summer nights, she put everything in perspective when cooing, "Will you still love me/ When I'm no longer young and beautiful?/ When I got nothing but my aching soul?" The crowd at the Mann Sunday definitely would.