For those looking for a high octane music affair to match the racing action, then Lana Del Rey's concert last night at du Arena wasn't it.
The US singer headlined the third of the four after race concerts at the venue and brought all the feels to a youthful and adoring crowd.
While her music could be somewhat considered a downer (both lyrically and audibly) it could be argued that it was much needed. After two previous concerts – Marshmello on Thursday and Gucci Mane and Future on Friday – featuring mainly aggressive dance and hip-hop beats, Del Rey's simmering balladry was a welcome sedative for the Abu Dhabi F1 fans attending each of the scheduled concerts.
The show also confirmed that Del Rey is a big deal in the region. After a previous sold-out show in Beirut back in 2013, the 34-year-old was taken aback by the raucous reception from a crowd who had descended on Abu Dhabi from all corners of the Middle East. Fan posters were projected across the screens stating they travelled from Saudi Arabia and Jordan to see their musical hero.
It all resulted in a show that somewhat divided opinion. If you were a fan, then Del Rey was a hazy dream come true. If you were not, you might have been bored to tears. And if you were the casual concert goer, it was a slightly underwhelming affair with occasional flashes of brilliance.
Del Rey’s songs ooze into each other
The main reason is Del Rey’s material. The solitary and minimal nature of the songs demand not only an indoor theatre setting but an attentive crowd. And du Arena, despite its often pristine sound and virtually no disruptive winds, just couldn’t quite capture the micro details so vital to her work.
Coupled with the over-enthusiasm of her fans – I haven't heard that much shrieking since Justin Bieber returned to Dubai in 2017 – it was hard to really capture a sense of the songs.
This was made even more challenging with Del Rey kicking off her concert with two tender tracks from her latest album, the brooding Norman (expletive) Rockwell. The concert began with the album's titular title track, in which Del Rey was accompanied by a piano. It looked gentle, it felt intimate, but that was it. Because other than the falsetto in the chorus I couldn't really hear a thing.
Fortunately, the crowd settled down when the follow up, the lilting Bartender rolled in, and we got to hear that exquisite anguish so central to her work.
After a lovely and sultry version of Joni Mitchell's Free (Del Rey's vintage aesthetic is in full display here, as she performs the track while perched on top of the piano), the concert well and truly kicked off when the full band, including two dancers, came onstage and launched into Born to Die.
This is when the show’s production came into play: the large backing screen projected noir-ish colours, there were forlorn looking palm trees on each side and a pair of swings flanking the stage that all went on to conjure a dream like state.
Del Rey and her band fully embraced this style. The drums were suitably muted, while the synths and guitars simply washed over you. This allowed woozy tracks such as Blue Jeans, Video Games and a majestic Summertime Sadness to all ooze into each other. To the non Del Rey fan it all sounded nice, if not rather placid.
Del Rey songs are emo tweets and memes put to music
But if you were a believer, it was everything. Del Rey’s music has often been analysed to a fault. Her lyrics, which often paint her as needy of love, has been accused as being pre-feminist. Others praise it for painting vignettes of American societal dysfunction. I am not convinced by either analysis.
Looking out at a sea of teary kids singing along to lyrics such as "you have no room for light, love is lost on you" (Black Beauty) and "I fall to pieces when I'm with you" (Cherry), you get the sense she was verbalising the anguish and loneliness that comes with that age.
In that sense, Del Rey follows an esteemed line of singer-songwriters, such as the aforementioned Joni Mitchell, and Dory Previn. Where their lyrics sounded like they came out straight out of diary, Del Rey’s material is basically a bunch of super-emo tweets and memes put to music. Hence the communal nature of her shows, which includes her stopping the performance for nearly ten minutes mid-way to greet her fans in the front row.
Now, there is nothing wrong with that bond at all if you are fan. But if you are not so invested in Del Rey shtick, it can often felt like you stumbled into a party where you are not invited.
The big race day concert tonight
The Abu Dhabi F1 After-Race Concerts conclude on Sunday, with the race day concert featuring the US rockers The Killers. To attend the concert, fans need to have a ticket for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix. Tickets are available online from Yas Marina Circuit.