I haven’t been a big concert goer the past few decades. I’ve heard Pere Ubu, Billy Bob Thornton, Father John Misty, Kitty Plague, and I went to the three-day Monterey Pop 50 with my daughter (where we both heard Regina Spektor for the first time), but none of these was a match for the Lana Del Rey experience at the House of Blues in San Diego. The concert was announced four days in advance, with insider ticket sales the next day if you bought something from her site and logged on at 10am. So grandpa played the rules, bought her new album online, and made the will-call list, part of the experience.
On Monday I left work early but not early enough to avoid an hour-and-a-half wait in the will-call line that that went three-quarters of the way around the block, standing with strangers mostly my granddaughter’s age, managing not to need to pee or to faint from dehydration, then it was another line, half an hour and all the way around the block, lapping the will-call line still going strong, to get in the door, past the pat down, and over to the bar to wait for another hour before the singing started. So, will-call line at 5:30, ticket at 7:00, inside by 7:30, singing at 8:40 until 10:10, ending with an instrumental walk-off worthy of the introduction to a Cure song.
I haven’t heard everybody, but I’ve listened to singers my age-mates, and even my daughters age-mates, have never heard or even heard of. To me Lana Del Rey is one of the three most interesting singer-songwriters of her generation (I have tickets to the other two in October). I’ve listened to her songs, on headphones mostly, over and over. I’m ambivalent and enthusiastic, beautiful songs contain lyrics like “Heaven is a place on earth with you/Tell me all the things you wanna do/I heard that you like the bad girls/Honey, is that true?” (Video Games, her first “hit”), or “My old man is a bad man” etc. (Off to the Races, which she closed with), where she loves that he loves her. But then there’s I Sing the Body Electric, which she opened with: right now I’m all about the night I saw her, not the hours I’ve listened on my own.
The problem, if you can call it a problem, is that she has fans. She has fans like no one else I’ve seen in a very long time. My 49 year-old daughter rushed the stage at Monterey when Phil Lesh came on, and that was something, but Lana’s fans were something else, much younger (than my daughter, and of course me) for the most part, majority female. They know the songs, and sang along, some. Lana encouraged it, pointed her microphone at audience for the refrain “probably a million years” in Summertime Sadness. She has a new album, Lust for Life, not the first album or song with that name (Iggy Pop, collaborating with David Bowie, not to mention the reference to Vincent Van Gogh), so the title could be seen as a statement about her position vis-a-vis these others. Reviewers, and Lana Del Rey herself, think this album, which debuted at #1, is her best, and a new departure; I’m not so sure, to me it seems more like her Nashville Skyline moment (to reference one of her avowed influences), but it didn’t matter last Monday night. Only two of the sixteen songs she sang–Change and Love–were from the new album. The concert, with the fans singing along, holding their phones aloft as a previous generation held cigaret lighters, screaming in recognition as each song started and intermittently throughout, so that the acoustics were better in the men’s room–this concert, this experience, was about the past, not the future or even the present.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved being there, standing in the back by the bar, peering over the heads of the fans who, if not her target audience (she says she’s a songwriter first and a singer second) have at least taken that role; I know the songs too, and teared up during Born to Die, and I’d go see her again (even with the will-call line), but the true experience of her music is alone in headphone space listening closely to the lyrics.