Lana Del Rey
w/ Nikki Lane
FirstBank Amphitheater; Franklin, TN
September 14, 2023
Review by Philip Obenschain. Photos by Mary-Beth Blankenship.
It was only a few weeks ago that wistful and enigmatic pop icon Lana Del Rey announced a pair of shows at Franklin’s still relatively new FirstBank Amphitheater, kicking off a small run of dates in mostly southern locales, many in cities less often traversed in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and West Virginia. Given how enduring her influence has been since breaking out as the indie scene’s it-girl just over a decade ago, and a wave of renewed interest from Gen Z thanks to TikTok and some recent Jack Antonoff-helmed LPs, it was no surprise that both shows still sold out near-instantly, leaving us with a pleasantly short window of anticipation ahead of the singer’s first Nashville-area performances in nearly four years. We last caught Lana live at Bridgestone Arena in 2018, though she played The Ryman a few years before, and Municipal Auditorium a year later, and we still mourn those would-be Bonnaroos she was set to headline in 2020 and 2021, canceled due to Covid and weather respectively. She’s released a prolific four additional albums in the handful of years since, leaving us all the more excited to catch up with unique and beloved artist in Franklin, and her tour kickoff was every bit as magical and melancholy and enhancing as expected. Read on for our full review and photos!
Though this is its third summer in operation, I only recently made it to FirstBank Amphitheater for the first time, to see Tenacious D. I’d heard horror stories about traffic, but had a relatively easy time getting in and out for that show, so hoped for the same for Lana Del Rey. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case. What should’ve been a 45 min to hour-long drive ended up taking me around two and a half hours, stuck in bumper to bumper, bottlenecked interstate traffic all filing into the venue’s one single entry point. I understand that infrastructure improvements are in the works, and I think the space itself is both gorgeous and great sounding, but having a multi-thousand seat venue that can’t reasonably handle the associated traffic feels like a fundamentally broken setup, and the lack of any real traffic direction either from staff or Williamson Country police until nearly within the venue grounds added to the frustration. I’ve been to larger venues with much more organized traffic control, and I sincerely hope that FirstBank figures it out (again, I really like the space, and once I got inside, I found the venue and staff to be great and highly organized- I’m simply venting a warning to anyone else who might be visiting for the first time to allow a lot of extra time). None of that, however, is Lana Del Rey’s fault, and thankfully I left enough buffer to arrive just minutes before she took the stage. It did mean that I unfortunately missed all of opener Nikki Lane, though, but I’m told she put on an excellent, fun, and inspired hometown show, and her alt-country sound (and longtime friendship with Lana) made her a really fun and complimentary opening act.
Arriving at my seat with just minutes to spare, I was met with a totally packed and incredibly enthusiastic crowd, which looked a lot different than the Lana audience I remember from just five years ago. I don’t know if it’s a younger fanbase both rediscovering her music from a decade ago while also connecting with her excellent new work, exposure through new social media platforms like TikTok, or her simply iconic and viral-worthy personal antics like “working a shift at a Waffle House” (probably some combo of all three), but Lana has ascended to something of a cult-like status with a whole new generation of fans, commanding unbelievable passion and obsession from her fanbase in the way few singers can. The crowd was diverse, though a majority were young women, and everyone’s attention was trained on a really beautiful stage, decorated with mirrors and faux shrubbery, stairs, curtains, flowers, and candles, all creating a lovely and dreamy aesthetic. Then, suddenly, met with deafening cheers, the singer appeared, donning all white and launching into “A&W,” from her latest album, Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd, before moving to dreamy, fan-favorite “Young and Beautiful,” then taking a seat at a decorated table next to one of the stage’s giant mirrors to deliver “Bartender” from Norman Fucking Rockwell!, the critically-acclaimed 2019 LP which more or less kicked of Del Rey’s latest musical chapter.
The production was really special, which, aside from all the incredibly tasteful adornments around the stage, included some extremely cool and dynamic lights all over, stairs leading to different points and instruments where Lana and her band, dancers, and backup singers could move around an interact, and gigantic backing screen, which alternated between footage of the performance and nostalgic imagery. I remember there being dancers the last time I saw her, but this time around there seemed to be several more, and they were a lot more involved, alternating between subtle, almost interpretive choreography and and interactive moments with Lana, occasionally dancing in sync with the singer, swinging on gigantic rope swings, covering her in scarfs, holding up reflective screens, and more. The band, too, as well as some backing vocalists, were all top notch, blending seamlessly into the stage and theatricality of the show, while meticulously recreating each and every nuance of Del Rey’s eclectic catalogue, from wistful, dreamy, indie pop to folky Americana nostalgia to orchestral and baroque grandeur.
Even after all these years, the enduring influence and cult status of Lana’s debut, Born to Die, still looms large, and through I was a little surprised to find that it still made up the bulk of her set, given how much music has come since, I’ll never complain about getting to watch her play classics like “Blue Jeans,” “Born to Die,” “Summertime Sadness,” or “Video Games” (most of which appeared during the end of the show), which all instantly transport me back to being a 20-something in the early 2010s at the height of the hipster-era indie boom. Other highlights included reflective and gospel-influenced newer tune “The Grants,” Norman Fucking Rockwell‘s ballad-y and soulful title track, Blue Bannisters tune “Arcadia” (from one of the two albums she released in 2021 which didn’t factor much into the set), and, of course, the lovely and hypnotic title track from her latest, “Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd,” which served as the evening’s somber and melancholy final song (other shows, including the following evening, have ended with “Hope Is a Dangerous Thing,” apparently, though some early sound issues might’ve caused a time crunch here). The biggest surprise came in the form of a Nashville-appropriate cover: Tammy Wynette’s “Stand by Your Man,” which Lana recently sang at a surprise appearance at Robert’s downtown, and sounding amazing with her voice.
If the unbridled excitement of the crowd, and the singalongs so loud they nearly drowned out the show, weren’t clue enough to just how hugely famous Lana has become, at one point during the show, she stepped down to the GA section in the front, and proceeded to accept flowers and gifts, take selfies, and chat with fans, as tears where shed, hands outstretched, and cellphones flooded around her. She did something similar at the end of her show years ago at Bridgestone, and it reminded then and even moreso now of singers who’ve transcended to larger-than-life adoration like a Morrissey type, asserting that, without a doubt, Lana is one of the most culturally relevant and impactful singers of our era. That fame alone though wouldn’t matter if not for her immense artistic talent, her incredible live presence, and her deep emotional resonance, which, each time I see her, only seems to grow. Nashville has always seemed to hold a special spot for Lana Del Rey, and at her recent return to Music City, the feeling was palpably mutual.
Young and Beautiful
Chemtrails Over the Country Club
Pretty When You Cry
Stand by Your Man (Tammy Wynette cover)
Norman Fucking Rockwell
Born to Die
Diet Mountain Dew
Did You Know That There’s a Tunnel Under Ocean Blvd