Lana Del Rey fell into a brief state of wonderment Thursday night at American Airlines Center. "I can't believe we're in an arena," she said. "Isn't it amazing?"
Quite. Del Rey's unlikely climb to arena rock star status is fascinating on several levels. For starters:
How can music so incessantly gloomy make so many people so happy?
Yet the bigger surprise is how Del Rey has grown into a performer who's quite capable of handling a room this big.
Performing in 2014 at Verizon Theatre, the former Lizzy Grant walked onstage looking fearful and sounding even worse. But this time in town, she oozed low-key confidence — both vocally and as a stage performer — and emerged as a sort of post-millennial Billie Holiday.
Singing her arsenal of sad songs on a set full of palm trees and beach recliners, she actually seemed to be enjoying herself. Sashaying in knee-high boots, writhing on the floor as she sang, and bantering with fans, Del Rey deviated from her default mode as a hipster Mona Lisa with trout-pout lips. Two model-dancers flanked her for most of the show, handing out flowers and serving as low-pressure hype-women.
As a vocalist, Del Rey is still pretty limited, but she didn't hit nearly as many flat notes as she did during her 2014 show. When she wasn't being drowned out by her sharp four-man band, she easily filled the arena with corduroy crooning, assisted now and again by taped backing vocals.
One of the show's high points arrived when she dismissed her band, strapped on a Gibson Flying V, and sang a lovely solo version of her tortured lullaby "Yayo." Alas, the moment was marred by boisterous fans who decided a quiet ballad was the perfect time to scream.
Del Rey performed a half dozen songs from her latest disc, Lust for Life, from the almost-upbeat title track (not to be confused with Iggy Pop's song) to "Cherry," a dirge about heartbreak from Del Rey's glum-and-glummer songbook. None of the new tunes were nearly as haunting as "Video Games," her 2011 hit, but the results were almost as eerie when she sang "Scarborough Fair," the English folk ballad popularized by Simon & Garfunkel.
For Dallas fans, the show was long overdue, after the singer canceled her May 2015 concert at the last second due to the threat of severe thunderstorms.
"It really broke my heart not to be able to go onstage," she recalled Thursday night. "I had to be restrained ... I was throwing plates at the door."
Too bad she doesn't put that kind of emotion into her music — just for variety's sake.