The fact that the debut of Lana Del Rey’s anxiously awaited new single, “West Coast,” amounted to an afterthought of her performance at the 2014 Coachella Valley Music & Art Festival on Sunday night (Apr. 13) is perhaps the biggest compliment the set can receive. “West Coast” entranced upon its unveiling, but Del Rey’s presentation of her previously released material was so self-assured and soundly captivating that the song debut could only act as a bridge between the other highlights. With a performance this singular in front of a Coachella crowd that was expectedly enormous, Del Rey inched farther away from the memories on her unsure footing as an artist (remember that :SNL” debacle?”) and closer toward undeniable pop stardom.
“I can’t tell you how right it feels to be here right now,” the singer gushed to the audience early in the show, after tiptoeing onstage in an orange dress that was checkered with purple flowers. Del Rey spent the performance checking off as many fan favorites as time allowed, starting with “Cola” and moving through “Body Electric,” “Born To Die,” “Summertime Sadness” and “Blue Jeans.”
One night after artists on the Outdoor Theatre stage at Coachella experienced vocal problems due to the dust kicked up by the extreme wind, Del Rey’s voice fortunately experienced no such issues, and sounded richly evocative as she hugged her hair to her cheek and slowly swayed her hips downward. Del Rey’s vocals were anchored by a cello on “Video Games” and by the thwacks of a drum pad on “Born To Die,” the lush instrumentation often in stark contrast with the vulnerability in the singer’s voice. Meanwhile, most of the songs were accompanied by otherworldly visuals, some of which were official music videos, others black-and-white multimedia presentations likely dreamed up by the “Tropico” creator.
At the center of the well-rounded stage show was Del Rey’s eccentric personality, which shone through each movement and every offhand comment. Before “Summertime Sadness,” Del Rey asked no one in particular, “Am I allowed to smoke onstage?” A minute later, she was hoisting her microphone toward her crowd in order to sing the “Sadness” hook while she took a drag on her cigarette. Del Rey would purr phrases like “I’m feeling it” in between songs and hide her face behind a mound of brunette hair, but she was never detached, often praising the crowd for its enthusiasm and stating near the end of the set, “I know there are some people who came [to Coachella] just to see this show. That means so much. I won’t forget you.”
And she didn’t: as the set-closing “National Anthem” wound down, Del Rey stepped offstage to greet the front row’s hardcore supporters and quickly placed a gifted crown of pink flowers in her hair. She hugged some fans; she kissed a few others on the lips. The ending spectacle would have felt strange if another artist had been carrying it out, but with Del Rey, the physical gratitude felt genuine.
Del Rey’s Coachella performance was so strong that the 27-year-old would have been forgiven if “West Coast” proved to be a dud, but thankfully, the new single sounded like a winner when played live for the first time. A mid-tempo ballad that collapses into woozy surf-rock following a fragile pop chorus, “West Coast” expands Del Rey’s reach without sacrificing the main tenets of her appeal. The same can be said of her Coachella set.