Lana Del Rey Channels America at Fenway Park: Live Review
Music

Lana Del Rey Channels America at Fenway Park: Live Review

Lana Del Rey gave a vision of her live performance future last night (June 20) in Boston — the eve of her 39th birthday — and it was evanescently exquisite. Her voice sounded confident and rich, her song selection was impeccable and her guest list was inspired (Quavo joined her to debut what sounds like the song of many summers in the form of “Tough”).

It was only a glimpse, as Fenway Park attendees were ordered to shelter inside because of heavy rain, wind and lightning. Devoted fans in mostly white summer dresses and mostly red cowboy boots, some with flowers braided in their hair, leaned against the walls of America’s oldest active ballpark, waiting. It was like something in a Lana Del Rey song — darkly comic, a little chaotic, something for which we’ll be instantly nostalgic. A show that was supposed to start a little after 8 instead kicked off at 10:30, and was finished barely 70 minutes later, a casualty of Boston’s noise laws.

When Del Rey announced that a single night here would serve as her lone American solo show of 2024, it all made sense the way so many of her songs do the very first time you hear them. Perhaps no other venue clicks so elegantly into her oeuvre: This is an artist who remixes and romanticizes Americana and America itself, taking elements of our shared history which linger so pleasantly that we don’t always even clock them as part of our culture: Harleys, Mustangs, boots. She loves Waffle House and beaches and motel pools, some of which she’s mentioned in her songs and some of which she doesn’t need to mention — you just know. She’s like the purveyor of some national antique store, with light-up signs for A&W and Pepsi Cola — knickknacks you didn’t even know you loved until you see how she puts them on display.

Del Ray has been associated mostly with New York and California, from her harlot-starlet-Queen of Coney Island phase and turn as “your little Venice bitch” on 2019’s Norman Fucking Rockwell! to her deep dive into SoCal secret knowledge with the title track of her latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd

But the scene at Fenway conjured up all kinds of Lana Del Rey-isms: red bricks, blue skies, a green monster. There must be something she could mine in its Cape Cod breezes and dark taverns and Catholic guilt and Puritan repression. Massachusetts is where America began, and America has been her fascination from the jump.

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Lana Del Rey performs at Fenway Park (photo: Grace Beal / Boston Red Sox)

Of course, a place so famously, comedically hostile to outsiders just had to haze her relentlessly with the heat and downpour. Misguided pop critics did the same when Del Rey debuted a dozen years ago with Born To Die. She explained herself as a gangster Nancy Sinatra and adopted a legal-age Lolita persona, often taking on in her songs the role of troubled young women wrapped up with bad older men. We knew she was a singer performing songs, and the expertise with which she crafted them signaled she was very much calling her own shots. The bemused, ironic distance to her material served it well and made it all the more bouncy and fun, like a fast-moving film noir.

In Boston, she projected something more powerful: total sincerity. Her voice sounded as good as it ever has, especially on inspired runs through “Ride,” “Born To Die” and “Chemtrails Over the Country Club.” She kept her patter short and sweet, promising she might soon explain how she ended up at Fenway, though she never did. It’s OK. We get it.

The costumes were simple — “I’ve got my red dress on tonight,” she sang on “Summertime Sadness,” and she really did — along with glittering silver boots. Her dozen backup dancers wore another shade of red. Water features adorned the stage, including a fountain in which the dancers moved cathartically after the heat and storm during opener “Without You.” They performed “Pretty When You Cry” lying down with a camera floating overhead, a wave effect added hypnotically to the big screens. And there were gentle, magic concert moments you couldn’t plan, such as soft, melancholic rain during the new album’s title song.

During the utterly gorgeous “Ride,” as she sang the line,“That’s the way my father made his life an art,” she gestured to the side of the stage toward her father, Rob Grant. His career as an advertising executive was one of the reasons some viewed her skeptically when she debuted — was she just a marketing ploy? All these years later, she’s proven she was much more. What’s more American than that?

Like the Beatles, Prince or Bruce Springsteen (who has called her, correctly, “one of the best songwriters in the country”), Del Rey has leveraged early pop success to become more experimental, interesting and strange. But even filling stadiums, she manages to exude an unfailing normalcy. Like a real American, she embraces the wild mix of American experiences as no big deal, which shone through in her choice of guests: feather-haired country singer Mason Ramsey, whom she first heard singing at a Walmart (they sang his song “Blue Over You”); courtly singer/guitarist Stephen Sanchez (they sang his “Until I Found You”) and, finally, Quavo. 

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Lana Del Rey and Quavo perform “Tough” at Boston’s Fenway Park (photo: Tim Molloy)

Del Rey has always been influenced by hip-hop, with all that sampling and reimagining of the past. She and Quavo gave it a full rollout last night after sharing a clip the day before, and it had that very special quality of feeling completely familiar and fresh at the same time. They looked good and sounded good together on lyrics such as “Tough like the scarf on a pair of old leather boots / Like the blue-collar, red-dirt attitude / Like a .38 made out of brass / Tough like the stuff in my grandpa’s glass / Life’s gonna do what it does / Sure as the good Lord’s up above / Cut like a diamond shining in the rough, tough.” Del Rey looked Quavo in the eyes before singing a line that surely resonated with Quavo, who was present when his nephew and Migos bandmate Takeoff was shot to death in 2022: “And it’s hard if you ever lose someone that you love.”

Local curfew laws be damned, she wrapped the show with “Video Games” (“I’m just gonna do it,” she said). Then, she walked into the crowd to smile for pictures with fans and promise she would be back sometime soon for a full two-hour extravaganza.

One of the best things about Lana Del Rey is all that cinematic revisiting, and sussing out both overt and hidden references to Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood and John Denver and Harry Nilsson (she’s name-checked the latter two in songs on Thursday.) Many of the artists she loves are old even to me, and I’m getting old. They were contemporaries of the grandparents of her flower-haired biggest fans, and I wonder if they know or care who they are. But with her craft, sense of history, air of normality and sure, even some canny marketing, Del Rey might be the perfect person to carry the torch and propel the past into tomorrow.

She’s as American as ballparks, waiting out rain delays and Migos floor-rattlers. And she may be the best hope to introduce the next Americans to their country — its songs, its Waffle Houses, its Walmarts. 

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Lana Del Rey performs at Fenway Park (photo: Grace Beal / Boston Red Sox)

Originally Published Here.

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