Lana Del Rey Makes Captivating Return to New York at Governors Ball

Taylor Hill/FilmMagic for Governors Ball Music Festival
Lana Del Rey performs during the 2015 Governors Ball Music Festival at Randall's Island on June 7, 2015 in New York City.

"It's so amazing to be back."

It's been nearly three years to the day that Lana Del Rey last played New York City (June 10, 2012 at Irving Plaza), and the enigmatic singer reserved her few words during a closing headline set of the 2015 Governors Ball Music Festival Sunday (June 7) to properly thank the hometown crowd who stuck around to see her. Though she was saddled with a muffled sound system that often failed to project her smoky, if thimble-sized voice to the further reaches of The Honda Stage, it only added to the near-hypnotic attention she commanded over the audience.

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Ostensibly playing an abbreviated version of her Endless Summer Tour set -- most notable omission: her buzzy cover of Jessica Rabbit via Peggy Lee's "Why Don't You Do Right" -- Del Rey paid homage to her former domain with a navy New York Yankees jersey dress, and was able to weave in between hits ("Blue Jeans," "West Coast," "Summertime Sadness") and rarities (leaked B-side "Serial Killer," a cover of Leonard Cohen's "Chelsea Hotel No. 2") like an increasingly seasoned pro. Though she seems to have shied away from the stage banter of her early club shows in support of Born To Die, her sultry stage presence (not to mention vocal control) has only improved exponentially since the SNL debacle of yore. 

Of course, not everyone who saw her could make that same assessment -- and quite literally. During several key segments of Del Rey's set, the sound was pitched so low that she was all but drowned out by the blues thump of The Black Keys, whose pristinely mixed jams could be heard piping across the island. Perhaps most ironically, nearly half of should-have-been-showstopper "Ultraviolence" was rendered inscrutable by the Keys, whose frontman Dan Auerbach produced that track and the bulk of Del Rey's 2014 album of the same name. 

Luckily Del Rey's production value has skyrocketed for Endless Summer, so even when her vocals couldn't be understood, her live feed was framed in a sumptuous variety of cinematic styles -- from a noir opening ("Cruel World" and "Cola" were meant for black-and-white) to a hazy, grind house color filter (perfect for "West Coast" and "Born To Die") to a red, yellow and green Del Rey hologram ("Shades Of Cool," natch). 

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The tightly framed close-ups revealed traces of genuine happiness in Del Rey amid all the sullen bad-girl postures of her lyrics, as she let slip a few genuine, toothy smiles through the set -- even coming out to the crowd on two occasions to pose for selfies with fans and accept a few flowers. The crowd also shared chorus duties on penultimate closer "Video Games," for which Del Rey sweetly thanked them for "singing loud as hell."

But perhaps the biggest response came during fan favorite "Serial Killer," when Del Rey let out a mid-song groan that would have been easy to dismiss as a vocal tic but was rapturously received as perhaps the most genuine emotion expressed all night. Del Rey may have been smoldering elsewhere the past three years, but New York was ready for her return. 

Lana Del Rey's Governors Ball Set:
Cruel World
Cola
Blue Jeans
West Coast
Born To Die
Ultraviolence
Summertime Sadness
Chelsea Hotel No. 2
Brooklyn Baby
Shades Of Cool
Serial Killer
Video Games
Off To The Races