Lana Del Rey Sticks To Her Guns With a Chill and Charming Arena Performance

Lana Del Rey doesn't put on your average beach party.
Lana Del Rey doesn't put on your average beach party. Photo by Cory Garcia.
Lana Del Rey, Kali Uchis
Toyota Center
February 10, 2K18

I won’t pretend that I know who Lana Del Rey is. There’s a persona that comes through on her records, one that’s sad and nostalgic in equal measure. With the slick production of her songs, the whole package works really well, but it is hard, for me at least, to think of her as anything other than an actress playing a role. Which is fine, because like pro wrestling, that’s all pop music is: people taking parts of their personality, turning them up to 11, and hoping to find success.

Seeing Lana Del Rey in concert is like peeking behind the curtain of the person singing all those sad tracks about days gone by. On stage, she’s happy, almost chatty, with a looseness that seems totally at odds with her material. If she’s nostalgic for anything, it’s her early work, going almost out of her way to mention which songs were older before performing them. A story about her connection to singer Kate Smith — best known for “God Bless America” — was one of the most charming moments of the night.

Del Rey and company have done a great job taking a collection of songs that, while cinematic in their sound, lack forward momentum and turning them into an engaging set through some clever staging, making the most of the giant stage playing arenas allows them. It’s also a pretty flexible set, with Del Rey unafraid to drop songs from it on a whim — Saturday night “Honeymoon” got the boot after asking the crowd about it — which is a refreshing change from most tours that swing through the Toyota Center.

The stage was designed to look like a beach at the edge of a body of water, with beach chairs and fake trees as part of the design. In a way, it reminded me of going to see Jimmy Buffett, but where a Buffett beach party is a reflection of baby boomer success — consider how much money you have to have to tailgate at one of his gigs — Del Rey reflects the fantasies of the modern age; of looking back to the Americana that you never experienced and maybe never existed, and of young love and existential dread.

It’s a lot to take in from a show being held in a basketball arena, but it clearly strikes a chord with many a young adult listener, judging from the makeup of the crowd. I have no idea if the ones screaming “’Cause you and I/We were born to die” will eventually transition to songs about cheeseburgers in paradise, but for now this is what they need. And no matter who Lana Del Rey is or isn’t, she’s figured that out.

So, How Was The Opener?: Kali Uchis is going places. She carries herself like a star, has one of the best backing bands I’ve seen in an arena opener and already has a set full of songs that had people freaking out. I’m not sure what the limit is on her upward mobility, but I can easily see her doing her thing at The Pavilion in a couple of years.

Personal Bias: I’m that guy that laughs every time the “It's not even summer, why does the DJ keep on playing ‘Summertime Sadness’?” part comes up in “#Selfie.”

The Crowd: I found myself thinking about my fellow Houston Press concert reviewer David Garrick’s review of Friday’s Phoebe Bridgers’ concert. You have this crowd, mostly couples and people in groups, who are clearly excited to see Del Rey, yet feel the need to talk over the music anytime the show gets a little too quiet. I just don’t get how you get a crowd full of people who show up with gifts for the headliner but are also more interested in getting themselves over instead of enjoying the show’s quietest moments.

Overheard in the Crowd: “I’ll be honest, it was a little like being kidnapped by terrorists. There were a bunch of people talking at me fast in a foreign language.” This is just one line in an incredible story the guy sitting behind me told about the time he went to see Cirque du Soleil and got pulled into the performance.

Random Notebook Dump: About an hour into the show, someone started smoking the smelliest weed I’ve ever encountered at a show, and all at once everyone in the nearby vicinity stopped paying attention to look around and try to figure out who was smoking it. No one was pleased with this development.
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Cory Garcia is a Contributing Editor for the Houston Press. He once won an award for his writing, but he doesn't like to brag about it. If you're reading this sentence, odds are good it's because he wrote a concert review you don't like or he wanted to talk pro wrestling.
Contact: Cory Garcia