Lana Del Rey Shatters Expectations at Red Rocks

Shockingly, against all odds, the weather was calm and dry; only moderate cool winds that were just a minor annoyance.  The median age appeared to be about 16, with flower crowns, acid-wash short shorts and American flags aplenty. The atmosphere amongst the crowd was akin to a sugar rush, the kind only seen in post trick-or-treat Halloween pillages. A brief frenzy erupted as the gates finally opened and fans were being let in. We all burst past security to see the beauty and grandeur of Red Rocks, some of us, for the first time. On a mission to find a good spot, I weaved and leapt my way through until I found a narrow spot that was about twenty rows from the center stage. Shocked that I could even find a seat, I took notice of giant symmetrical flat rocks protruding up on both sides of the audience, the signature two “red rocks” of the acclaimed venue. At the stage, the sound setup appeared fairly moderate if not minimal for the size of the venue, given how many hundreds of people continued to pour into the many rows behind me. I figured that this was likely due the acoustics of the venue: the two outward-angled flat rocks combined with the gradual bell-shaped ascending slope of the audience seats serve to contribute to the venue’s impressive sound.  

Key differences between Red Rocks and many other venues I’ve been to certainly include the seats and the stage, and especially the sound. The seats were concrete and wood, which were far more comfortable than they sound, with space underneath for stowing drinks, backpacks, small children and otherwise made for a relaxed open-air experience. Some outdoor venues attempt to maximize the seating arrangement for economy, squeezing patrons together at the expense of comfort. I felt unusually relaxed and humbled in my spacious seat, maybe it was the open Colorado skies above, or maybe it was a calming effect of sitting in an ancient rock formation or both. While those were possibilities, it might have also been due to the recreational marijuana being enjoyed around me, in copious amounts.

Courtney Love opened for a rather distracted crowd. Well aware of the generational divide she faced, Courtney had fun with her performance, teasing the crowd and ironically jesting that they scream for Lana like she was N’Sync. Nevertheless, her set was very entertaining even for those of us unfamiliar with her music; mentions of drugs, slurred words and an overeager stage hand made us all chuckle. As her set came to a close, I took the opportunity to visit the merchandise table, which was very pleasantly well-stocked with a variety of LDR must-haves: lighters, bracelets, hats, tank tops along with Endless Summer t-shirts, all well-designed with themes to be expected of Lana Del Rey merchandise. I was actually very impressed at the quality of the designs, and how closely they matched the style of her album covers and CD inserts. Normally I find it hard to like the offerings at the merchandise tables at concerts. But who was I kidding, this was Lana Del Rey, of course I would love what they had. And I did. Among the items available for sale was a deep sky blue Endless Summer tour shirt, and something that no true Lana fan could ever resist purchasing: the Lana Del Rey Lyric book, aka “The Lana Bible”. After flipping through it and having a small heart attack at the glossy pages and artwork, I bought it immediately. Almost on cue, as I swipe my credit card, I hear a bubbling roar from the crowd, signaling only one thing: Lana is here.

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Opening with Cruel World, also the opening track on her latest album, Ultraviolence, she then returned to two of her classics Cola and then Blue Jeans, followed by another hit from her new album. She would later go on to perform 5 songs from Ultraviolence, and 6 songs from Born to Die/Paradise. The other 4 songs were bonus songs, either unreleased tracks destined for Honeymoon or covers she just likes to perform and were her must-haves for the Endless Summer Tour set list.

Lana Del Rey Set List 2 May 12 2015 at Red Rocks

Even distribution of songs across her last two albums, and possibly from her next.

Perhaps the most exciting surprise was the performance of her unreleased track Us Against the World, along with Serial Killer. Is this a sign that she may be recording these for her upcoming album, Honeymoon? Both songs have deep similarities in their mysterious noir-ish chords, an unusually groovy tempo with signature love-motivated bad girl lyrics. Further evidence for these being the first on the next album is that she hasn’t been known to sing unreleased tracks during her concerts. And we do know that she wants to explore the noir style much more deeply for her next album.

Serial Killer has a fully-produced style that is to be expected from Lana by now, with swelling strings all underneath a fine layer of dusty crackles to give an antique feel. If I were to guess, I would say this track comes from longtime producer Rick Nowels, who has laid down other noir-ish gems such as Body Electric and Shades of Cool. Reminders of its actual place in time include the zooming synth hits that abruptly ramp in rather ominously.

Much like Metro in Chicago, the vocal and instrumental clarity that can be heard from the audience is strikingly rich and precise. Every breath, shrill and whisper uttered from the stage can be heard across all 10,000 seats. This is owed in part to the wonderful acoustics of the venue and to the fine detail with which the venue’s sound equipment was set up. It takes a very special combination of these two factors, natural acoustics and proper equipment, to achieve the kind of performance capabilities that Red Rocks has.

Because of this, not just any artist can or should play at Red Rocks: it’s just too risky for beginning artists or those who aren’t well-trained enough for a live show of this nature. Such a high level of stage clarity makes for a very unforgiving medium for the untrained – and equally as rewarding for the exceptionally talented. Naturally, at the opening of her US tour, an abundantly vibrant and energetic Lizzie lit up the stage and brought a euphoric joy over the audience. Many fans were disappointed that she didn’t do her signature moan during Serial Killer, but it seemed to me, the sight of 10,000 fans roaring against a starry night sky might have been a bit overwhelming, plus it was only her second time performing it on tour this year. She gave from what I could tell, an exact replication of studio work, with no perceivable difference between the show and the studio tracks, save for the occasional giggles, ad-libbed lyrics or extended vocal runs. Only interrupting herself a handful of times, bursting into laughter mid-verse, or pausing to look upward and inhale in gratitude, Lana gave a performance that will remain in fans’ hearts and memories, probably till the end of time.

Watch the entire show below: