Live Review: Lana Del Rey

25 July 2012 | 10:21 am | Adam Curley

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There's a kind of lamentation that comes with seeing Lana Del Rey's stage set-up before she makes her entrance. Not from the anticipation of self-effacing ballads nor from the atmosphere. The copious flora that frames where a four-piece string section will go, an elevated piano and a solitary mic are soundtracked by 1950s soul and pop. The Palace has been turned into the scene of an American television set circa all the legendary variety-show hosts we vaguely know from nostalgic films and YouTube videos. There's comfort in it, or a childlike giddiness at the sight, as if we're escaping homebound lives in the way it used to be done without MTV's/rap's/Lady Gaga's bombastic values.

The sigh comes from Lizzy Grant's absence from our city in March, when she was booked in to play the Toff at the height of the world's chatter about her. How fascinating it would have been to engage with worldwide discussions of her live show in the context of a tiny venue in little Australia. Now we get the big production, the practiced one. It's not as exciting but there's still anticipation for the real, for seeing Grant in the flesh, despite that realness never quite eventuating.

When Grant appears in a trust-fund teen's blue satin party dress and sparkling necklace, it's to howls of adoration from the sold-out venue. Rather than the pouts we see on screen, Grant meets her welcome with blushing smiles, thank-yous and a quick launch into Blue Jeans. Her band, who've grinned at their entrance but are in Grant's presence po-faced and doing their bit, back the singer's reverberating vocal astutely – not dramatically, not elaborately, but with precision and purpose. They are the epitome of 'backing band' – Grant even thanks “my music band” in her craggy, washed-up Hollywood starlet speaking voice (think Lea Thompson in Back To The Future Part II) near her conclusion – but it's what is needed to pin down Grant's wonderfully imperfect vocal. For all this showiness, Grant has a subversively affecting voice. It's pop but not, hurt yet spiteful, big enough to fill the place but carries with it internalised experience. In song she's a standout performer. It's out of song that she lets slip.

The first moment comes with an all-to-happy acceptance of a front-row request to sing Happy Birthday. It isn't established whether it's anyone's birthday exactly, but Grant is going for it anyway, and her rendition is as karaoke-Marilyn as it is at the beginning of the video for her single National Anthem. What's cloying is her willingness to perform not to us but for us. Every “I love you!” gets one back; each song ends with an eager smile, a bright-eyed need for the approval. “She's doing so well,” a woman behind me tells her friend. “She's really in tune.” Others shout “Yes!” to the line in China Doll that goes, “Am I glamorous? Tell me, am I glamorous?” It's hard to know if what's happening is an online-prompted version of a televised talent quest or hardcore persona worship. The answer, surely, is both and more.

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It's important at this point to note that projected onto Grant and her band is a repeating selection of Lana Del Rey's YouTube videos. We get her posing – yes, pouting – adorned by handsome men; Grant in black-and-white, a couple of turns of the Video Games clip, including for the awesome song itself (actually she fluffs a line or two). When Grant disappears below the stage to greet fans, there's at least something to watch on the tele. But it creates the feeling throughout that we've gathered to see large-scale versions of the streams of Grant performing that we've all watched alone in our bedrooms. There she is captured in a rectangle of moving images. And it's this that cements the theme for the evening, or perhaps for Grant's artistry: Lana Rey Del is whatever you want her to be and she's all too happy to be it.

There's nothing much to destroy the view of her submissiveness or patriotism as commentary on the American way, but taken as is Grant is easily a celebration of excess, narcissism and a caving femininity. She's the singer you can champion as a bedroom-styled upstart – imperfect and thankful – as much as a fully-gone celebrity adorned in jewels or a jaded multimediast. It's highly calculated pageantry, escapism exactly as the initial scene suggested: everything we ever wanted sans the reality. And then she's gone 50 minutes later, no encore, confused looks on faces as the lights stay down but the mic sits unattended. Back to our own lives, or maybe home to YouTube.