Friday, January 15, 2021

January 15th 2018, Lana Del Rey at the Air Canada Centre

I've always believed that a well written song can transport you to another place for a few minutes, make you forget what's happening in your life and send you somewhere far away from the stresses of everything else. Maybe there's an algebra test you have that morning or maybe you're nervous about that job interview you've got coming up. Maybe it's something far worse, like dealing with a bad breakup or the loss of a loved one, or any one of a thousand other situations. Whatever it might be, my own experience and the experiences of many others is that listening to the right piece of music at the right time can ease those pressures and stresses. The right song at the right time can make all the difference.

Similarly, a well written album, a collection of cohesive songs that all share a common thread of some sort, that can become a fully immersive experience when it's done right. A great album can offer the chance to travel to new places, the opportunity to tap into the same kind of alternate life that we live in our dreams. It's a simple but effective escapism that music fans have been using for generations, music as release, as an opportunity, as a place to escape from it all.

Lana Del Rey is an artist who recognizes the escapist opportunities in music, the chance it offers to get away from everything. In many ways her work embodies a certain California vibe, a particular West Coast dream that's run through popular music for decades with the promise of open roads, beautiful beaches, and the wind in your hair. It's a dream filled with possibilities and opportunities, where it's always summer and you can always escape to the beach. And while that blissful California ideal might only exist in dreams and pop songs, Del Rey does an excellent job of tapping into it, giving that dream shape and substance and a little more detail, a little more substance to add to it's appeal. That dream may not be explicitly stated, it may only be the backdrop or a suggestion in any particular song, but there's a feeling of escape that runs through most of her work, a yearning to find happiness and connection that may exist somewhere else, and I can appreciate that idea.

I'll admit that I don't know much about Lana Del Rey's past, or about her life before she became an artist, but I very much enjoy her sound and her style. I was introduced to her music a few years ago when Carolyn started listening to some of her stuff on YouTube so I bought her a copy of "Born to Die" for her birthday. Listening to it I was immediately struck by her lyrics, and how they had a sense of dreaming that resonated with me on a deep level.

"Born to Die" has some great tracks that I often think of as poetry disguised as well crafted pop songs. Videogames, Summertime Sadness, the title track and more, all of them are great songs. That album inspired me to pick up her next album when it came out, ostensibly for Carolyn to recognize a holiday or an anniversary, but also for me too, along with her next album after that, and her next album after that, and pretty soon I found that I was eagerly anticipating releases from Lana Del Rey, always curious and interested in the new music she was making, interested in where her lyrics would take me next. I still buy them for Carolyn to add to her own musical collection, but it's understood chez nous that I'm buying them just as much for my own listening enjoyment. I just gave her a copy of "Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass" for Christmas a couple of weeks ago, and she accepted it with a raised eyebrow and a knowing smile.

Carolyn and I missed seeing Lana Del Rey on a handful of her early visits to Toronto, but we finally had the opportunity to see her when she was touring for the "Lust for Life" album in 2018 and had a stop in Toronto at the Air Canada Centre, a big arena in the downtown core that alternately hosts basketball, hockey, and concerts. It's a big place, it holds about fifteen thousand people, and while it's the best chance you have to see some of the larger acts that come through the city, it can be a little overwhelming in terms of distance if you're in the upper seats, and we had tickets in the upper rows in the highest level of the venue. But I wasn't too concerned because I had always felt like Del Rey's music could take me to other places, and I was hoping that it would do the same for us at the show too. My feeling was that it didn't matter if we were going to be far away from the stage if we were going to be transported somewhere else anyway. And I'm happy to say that I was right, Carolyn and I and all of the audience were taken somewhere else that night.

When the lights went down and Lana Del Rey came out to open the show, the stage was revealed as a sixties beach grotto with palm trees, long beach chairs, and videos of the tide coming in. It was really pretty amazing. And within a couple of songs we were transported far away from the Air Canada Centre in both space and time, escaping to somewhere else far away from all of the stresses and pressures that may have existed in our day to day lives.

She played a number of songs from "Lust for Life" that night, and they all sounded great in a live setting with a tight band. Given that she was in Toronto I was hoping that the Weekend would do a guest appearance for a duet on the title track like he does on the album, but it didn't happen. I suppose that a lot of people were hoping for the same thing as she made a joke about it before she sang the song, saying that he wasn't there to sing it with her live, but she'd try to do it justice on her own. And she did, it was still great...

She played Videogames, and Music to Watch Boys To, and Summertime Sadness, and there was a medley that included a shortened version of Young and Beautiful, which has always been one of my favorites. I would have liked to have heard a full length version of that song, but it's okay, maybe in some ways it's better to have only heard a bit of it so I can look forward to hearing it the next time she comes around on tour. I have faith that Carolyn and I will go back to see her again.

It was a great show and I'm so glad that we finally had the chance to see her live. 

At the start of 2020 in the Beforetimes I was really hoping that she'd come back again and play a show for the "Norman Fucking Rockwell" album too, it really is a masterpiece and it would have been perfect to hear those songs played live under a warm summer sun at a venue like Echo Beach or even the Molson Amphitheater. But y'know, 2020 and all that. I'm optimistic that I'll get my chance to hear those songs live one day though, it's just a question of when. And in the meantime Carolyn (and I) still have all of her albums to listen to, and they're all able to take me away to distant places while I wait for that next chance. 

That's enough for the time being...

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