I would have assumed every person in the room held their phone up when Lana Del Rey took the stage if not for the flurry of people who shouted at the rest of us to put our phones down. That’s a fair request, all things considered; how often are you a few yards away from Lana Del Rey? Soak the moment up! On the other hand, how often are you a few yards away from Lana Del Rey? To document such an occasion is a basic 21st century human impulse. Thus, a wave of smartphones occasionally emerged from the small sea of humanity gathered at Apple Music’s intimate SXSW headquarters, intent on preserving the memory of something special.
What we witnessed, either with our own eyes or through glowing digital displays, was a comfortable and confident Del Rey. In her first concert of 2017, the singer eased through a handful of her best songs — notably, none of them from 2015’s Honeymoon — with poise and an abundance of smiles. She sang beautifully, backed by a four-piece band that rendered her music in simple strokes but found ways to inject some of her usual cinematic splendor into the proceedings. “Cruel World,” “Ride,” “Born To Die” — they all sounded splendid and occasionally spectacular.
Her voice was mostly gorgeous, though much stronger in the lower register than on the high-range choruses of “Ultraviolence” and “Shades Of Blue.” Although some of Del Rey’s festival sets have been derailed by technical difficulties, in this case a nagging issue with her monitor simply became an occasion for selfies with fans in the front row. At the middle of the show she strapped on a flying V guitar and played “Yayo” solo because why not? And as the hour-long set neared conclusion, she asked, “Will you sing ‘Video Games’ with me?” The room gladly consented.
Her final selection was the new single “Love,” performed live for the first time. It may be the best song she’s ever recorded: a dream made for radio, straightforward yet elegant in a manner she always aspires to but doesn’t always achieve. Though as classically styled as any Del Rey track, “Love” feels less like niche revivalism than usual, like it could actually catch on in the 2017 mainstream. It sounded as world-conqueringly great in that room as it does on record. See for yourself below — via cellphone footage, of course; you don’t get the chance to record Lana Del Rey performing her new single every day.