Lana Del Rey’s “New York” show Saturday – the first leg of the Norman Fucking Rockwell Tour‘s lone East Coast gig – took over Northwell Health at Jones Beach Theater, a beachside venue just west of Fire Island and many miles past where city kids without cars are usually willing to travel for concerts. With that kind of booking, it’s as though the singer envisioned the attendees traveling over in top-down convertibles, the wind in their hair and their sugar daddies at the wheel. Let’s be real: Lana Del Rey converting Robert Moses’ New York into an immersive experience sounds… well, just like Lana being Lana.
The reality, as she told the audience during her set, was that she chose the venue for her own personal nostalgia: it was the site of her very first concert, Bob Dylan and Paul Simon in 1999. It’s a fitting origin point for an artist whose most recent album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, largely dispensed with the self-described “Lolita lost in the hood” hip-hop production of her earlier work and opted instead for sun-drenched psych-rock and folk, inspired by her idols from Laurel Canyon and Greenwich Village. From the minute Del Rey appeared onstage, dressed in white lace, to sing what might be the defining album opener of the decade – “Goddamn, manchild/You fucked me so good that I almost said, ‘I love you’” – there was no doubt that she will be name-dropped as someone’s idol down the line.
At the Jones Beach venue, she sang and drifted like a ghost that may have appeared as a background character in The Last Waltz. In addition to a four-piece band, she was flanked by two showgirl-type dancers, who did the sort of Love Witch-y antics you’d expect: posing with crystal balls, burning sage and vamping on giant swing sets covered in vines. Twice, Lana brought out a guitar-wielding folksy collaborator for a duet – Leonard Cohen’s son Adam for a cover of his father’s “Chelsea Hotel #2,” and Sean Lennon for Lust For Life’s “Tomorrow Never Came.”
These were sweet, but the show’s most thrilling vocals came from solo Del Rey, who frequently broke out of her recognizable sultry monotone for a more dynamic sound – everything from soaring bravado on the last chorus of “Bartender” to warbling mystique on “Pretty When You Cry.” For the latter, her dancers joined her in lying down at the front of the stage and writhing over a projection of ocean waves beneath them.
While there was an impressive amount of care in her performance, Del Rey was also happy to mosey around in her “fresh out of fucks forever” attitude, which seemed to contain just as much crucial attention to detail. When she changed a lyric in an early hit, “Born to Die,” from “let me kiss you hard in the pouring rain” to “let me fuck you hard in the pouring rain,” she had to project her voice on the next line to be heard over the roaring crowd. She later called someone backstage over for “my little drink and my little vape,” and during a meandering mashup of her back catalogue, the artist formerly known as Lizzy Grant sat down and casually bit into an apple that had materialized in her hand, while the band played on.
That’s not to say her onstage presence was dismissive; she grinned throughout the set as though she, like her fans, was giddily shocked to be there. When the crowd finished a sing-a-long rendition of “Summertime Sadness,” she yelled “fuck yeah!,” undercutting the track’s sadcore premise with a burst of joy.
There was a curfew to be upheld, and plenty of 5+ minute songs to get through, but even so, the show felt rushed – “Gosh darn, we’re just ripping through this set,” Del Rey exclaimed at multiple points – and despite the last-minute add-in of “Shades of Cool,” there were still several glaring omissions. Some of the most lauded tracks from Norman Fucking Rockwell, including “The Greatest,” “Fuck It I Love You” and the piano manifesto “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing For a Woman Like Me To Have – But I Have It,” were nowhere to be found. Nor were old favorites like “West Coast,” or “Love.” There’s no need to explain why not playing “High By The Beach” was a mistake.
But what was there was well worth the drive, or a ride on the Long Island Rail Road. Following her boozy, magnificent take on Sublime’s “Doin’ Time,” she went into her most uptempo song, “Off to the Races,” having replaced its electronic beats with heavy-metal guitar chords. It was the closest that Lana Del Rey has ever sounded to arena rock, and that – plus the noisy, nearly 15-minute haze of “Venice Bitch” to close out the show – exceeded the price of admission. Maybe it was not ideal to wait out in the parking lot afterwards for the bus, deep in Nassau County, surrounded by hordes of teenagers in jean jackets smoking and holding each other solemnly like this really was the last stop before Kokomo. But if this was all a part of Del Rey’s own dirty-beach brand of myth-making, then she’s miles ahead of the rest.
Lana Del Rey Set List
Norman Fucking Rockwell
Chelsea Hotel #2 (with Adam Cohen)
Born to Die
Pretty When You Cry
Change / Black Beauty / Young and Beautiful
Tomorrow Never Came (with Sean Lennon)
Mariners Apartment Complex
Off to the Races
Shades of Cool