Lana Del Rey had been gone for too long. More than once on Thursday night at the BB&T Center, the California-based singer-songwriter marked the distance between this evening and her previous concert in South Florida. “I’m finally back in my tropical zone,” she said early in the show, re-introducing herself with a combined sense of relief and resignation, like someone returning home after many years in exile, the circumstances of which will be discussed at a later time, if ever. In fact, it had only been 2 1/2 years since Del Rey last appeared on a Florida stage, at a concert in West Palm Beach to close out her Endless Summer Tour. But if the years seemed interminable to Del Rey and to the thousands of excited and vocal fans in attendance who welcomed her back, the sentiment only helped to underscore the meaning of this concert and much of the artist’s work: The time of your life is now. The present is past and future both. Do with it what you will.
Since emerging in 2012 with the album “Born To Die,” Del Rey has been depicted as something of a pop-culture magpie, an acolyte of Old Hollywood and early pop music with a practiced air of mystery and a made-up name, to boot. This isn’t entirely inaccurate, and a glance at just about any of her music videos suggests Del Rey isn’t much interested in dispelling the notion, but it tells only part of the story.
Del Rey is not simply a student of American pop culture, but a savant. Like Bob Dylan, her closest peer and influence, she understands that no song — no good song, anyway — is ever born alone, and the thrill of listening to her music is discovering just how closely she, too, is listening. Girl groups, country music, art rock, hip-hop, folk, surf music — it’s all there. “Cherry,” a new song she performed Thursday night, evokes Patsy Cline and Simon and Garfunkel, a debt she acknowledged with a partial cover of “Scarborough Fair,” a song whose own origins stretch back for centuries.
Del Rey’s 2017 album, “Lust for Life,” is the reason the songwriter has returned to the road, and the BB&T Center show began the second leg of her LA to the Moon tour. “Lust for Life,” and the title owes more to the writer Irving Stone and Vincent Van Gogh than it does to Iggy Pop, opens with a song, “Love,” that Del Rey didn’t perform on Thursday but whose opening lyrics braid together many of the show’s themes: “Look at you kids with your vintage music / Comin’ through satellites while cruisin’ / You’re part of the past, but now you’re the future / Signals crossing can get confusing.” The song that opened last night’s concert, “13 Beaches,” also from “Lust for Life,” brings that idea on home, with Del Rey’s narrator trying to figure out how to live with and beyond an old but still raw heartbreak, her voice, never unclear, alternating between pulling back and moving in. That she sang this song while dressed head to toe in black and pacing a stage made to look like the rocky shore of a California beach, complete with cliffside lounge chairs and tall seagrass, amplified the song’s unresolved sadness and its author’s borderless intentions.
Twenty-one songs followed, though not always in full. Working from a set list that has featured nightly additions and subtractions throughout the tour so far, Del Rey prefaced some songs (“Salvatore,” “God Bless America — And All the Beautiful Women in It”) with the warning — really, a gentle tease — that she would only provide only a taste, performing just the first verse and chorus, a vow that she willingly amended. The audience, predominantly composed of young women and men, white flowers in the hair of many, didn’t seem to mind the abbreviations. They certainly didn’t object when Del Rey invited them to take the lead on songs such as “Born To Die” or when, following an invigorating rendition of the expansive 2012 single “Ride,” she left the stage for more than five minutes to pose for selfies with and receive hugs, kisses and gifts (including what appeared to be a fern and a diorama) from people on the floor.
Whatever distance Del Rey might have felt between herself and her South Florida fans at the beginning of the show was nowhere in evidence by the end of the night. Forgoing an encore, Del Rey closed with “Off to the Races,” a hip-hop-flavored track from “Born To Die” that gave her one more opportunity to pull the present into the past. While her band played on, Del Rey gathered up her gifts, said goodbye and exited the stage with little ceremony and with the confidence of someone who knows she will be back. The only question is when.