For a self-styled queen of millennial gloom, Lana Del Rey sure knows how to throw a party.
That’s what you had to think Thursday night as you walked out — floated out, really — of a filled-to-the-brim Hollywood Bowl, where the singer played a blissed-out hometown gig behind her stunner of a new album, “Norman F— Rockwell!”
Released in August to countless rave reviews, the record sets Del Rey’s deep thoughts on romance and celebrity and climate change against moody but gorgeous folk-rock arrangements rich with echoes of California’s past.
And here the Los Angeles-based artist took advantage of the primo location to boost the iconographic weight of some of the album’s most effective tunes: “Bartender,” a delicate ballad about a boozy blowout in the hills; “Mariners Apartment Complex,” with its promise of salvation in the salty sea air; and the brilliantly titled “Venice Bitch,” in which she got the crowd roaring by tweaking a lyric to sing, “Life’s dream — send nudes to you.” (Too real, perhaps, on a night of destructive new wildfires was “The Greatest,” whose lines about L.A. in flames she left unsung.)
Yet Del Rey also used Thursday’s show as an opportunity to gather “family and friends,” as the Bowl’s marquee put it, for a star-studded celebration that drew lines across generations.
She brought out Chris Isaak in a sparkly suit to do “Wicked Game,” his decades-old rockabilly slow jam, which Del Rey described as “the sexiest song of all time.” She invited Sean Lennon and Adam Cohen — sons of the late John and Leonard, respectively — to help her sing tunes that openly evoked their fathers. And with indie singers Zella Day and Weyes Blood she formed an instant supergroup of like-minded young women for a tightly harmonized rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “For Free.”
Throughout it all, Del Rey made like the evening’s merry host, warmly hugging her guests as they entered and exited, clearly relishing her ability to convene such an impressive yet low-key hang.
“Can I have my vape?” she asked somebody in her crew at one point — a vivid demonstration of her knowing post-“Valley of the Dolls” stage manner. Then she sauntered out onto the Bowl’s semicircle catwalk and kneeled down amid a garden of glowing iPhones, each held aloft in the hope that she’d pluck it and take a selfie.
Del Rey, often lit from behind to reveal her silhouette beneath a billowy designer dress, didn’t just look to be having a great time; she sounded great too (even if her small band relied too much on prerecorded tracks). On “Tomorrow Never Came,” her and Lennon’s unashamedly Beatlesque duet, her voice was low and sultry; on Leonard Cohen’s “Chelsea Hotel #2” she was high and dreamy as Adam Cohen channeled his dad’s famously gruff delivery. For “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing for a Woman Like Me to Have — But I Have It,” Del Rey was accompanied on piano by Jack Antonoff, who produced the new album, and here she sang as well as she did all night, slurring her words with a seemingly contradictory precision that only made her images of “confusion and quiet collusion” more chilling.
After that one, Del Rey could tell the audience needed another lift. So she introduced her final guest, Jesse Rutherford of the sly L.A. rock band the Neighbourhood, to do his “Daddy Issues,” followed by a pair of songs about summer: “Summertime Sadness,” which had her two backup singers twirling umbrellas (and wasn’t sad at all), and her affectionately faithful cover of Sublime’s “Doin’ Time,” during which she splashed around in a small pool at the lip of the stage.
It was a vision of cool, carefree SoCal-itude that made 18,000 or so Angelenos feel like they’d crammed into the world’s most picturesque backyard.