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Three Songs No Flash

Who Will Stop The Rain? Lana Del Rey Live At Oya
Chris Roberts , August 14th, 2017 08:41

Chris Roberts travels to Oslo’s Oya Festival and finds Lana Del Rey stopping the rain and moving fans to tears. Plus Pixies, The xx, Feist, The Shins, Mac DeMarco, Ryan Adams, Angel Olsen and more

Live photographs by Johannes Granseth

One imagines Lana sitting backstage an hour before her outdoors show in Oslo. She has her laptop, two phones, make-up, some gold pumps and a magazine with a colourful Matisse illustration on the cover. And a yoghurt. (I adapt all this from her Instagram). She half-listens perhaps to Julie London’s 1956 album Lonely Girl. (I invent that). She is calm. I didn’t put this on me, she thinks. They put it on me. They project. The people project; I am a cipher. And that’s fine. Or wait, did I put it on me? Maybe I did. I guess I started the ball rolling. But they are running with it. And that’s fine. That is Pop. I should enjoy this. It is tiring, but rewarding. I will enjoy this.

Later, around 10.30, Lana has climbed down off the stage and is in the crowd, mixing with her most feverish fans, who can’t believe it. For five minutes or so, she poses for selfies with them, allows a few to kiss her cheek. Retains a slow-dream-in-focus composure throughout. We watch this on the big screen. One Filipino boy gives her a hug, then, when she’s moved on to the next delirious Lanaphile who can’t believe her luck, bursts into an uncontrollable bout of joyful, overcome tears. We watch this on the big screen. Wait, he’s not a boy, he’s a grown man. He gets a roar of supportive cheers, plus a smattering of mockery. It is the greatest moment of his life. He covers his face, trying to absorb it. The next girl, younger, is telling Lana something about how her songs have saved her life, or something like that, trying to fit an everything of inexpressible emotion into the five seconds she has, trying to find the right words. Lana nods, smiles slightly: in truth she can’t hear a word because she has her earpieces in. The band are still vamping 'Born To Die' and it has to be finished at some point. She mouths a thank you. She gets back up on the stage, bouquets in arms. She carries on. She finishes 'Born To Die'. The love, the love is palpable. It is authentic.

We should mention the rain. Today Oslo has seen a deluge of Biblical proportions, hour after relentless hour of the kind of rain which attacks you from every angle, doesn’t let you brazen it out. Loud, leaden, piercing, dark rain. We have been confined to the hotel all afternoon: I watched and listened to the skylight in my ceiling, wondered if it’d hold or if I would be drowned in a bed. One feels for Oya: normally so pretty, its first day is a wash-out, like a parodic photomontage of Glastontelly at its ghastliest. (It will recover brilliantly over the next two bright, sunny days). Yet in a narrative gift you couldn’t make up, the rain stops just in time for Lana. Your legs still get covered in mud and shit but you can be there. In a way, of course, it would’ve been perfect to experience Lana’s songs of epic doomed romance in an apocalyptic whirl of thunder, lightning and horsemen, to indulge in that Last Love Song At The Fin Du Monde sensory saturation, to get down with the spirits of Ibsen and Munch and scream with ghosts. Then again, my cheap Fila trainers are written off after ten minutes and it’s a wet Wednesday night and I’ve suffered enough.

Lana somehow manages to remain a style icon in her own Fila sportswear. It’s interesting how she’s taken to under-dressing (in glamour terms) in recent times, as if she’s read the quips about her lyrics all banging on about my red dress this and my red dress that, and eased back. Indeed the show is understated rather than overstated. Technically it’s not a festival-headlining show at all: no spectacle, no big rhythm, just a woman singing songs with a solid band – no strings, no visible sturm und drang – and a couple of dancers, who fill the spaces she doesn’t. When she does join in the dancing, for the closer 'Off To The Races', which carries remnants of her initial “hip hop-infused, gangsta Nancy Sinatra” pitch, she’s very much doing Dance Class 101 moves. For the body electric of the set, she’s a crooner. And all the strum und drang you’ll ever need is there, in the voice, the songs. In the grain which stops the rain.

Those songs. That’s what brings out the projection in this fan. Like Karen Carpenter singing Jim Steinman. The innate you-can’t-fake-it sadness of Karen, obviously; the so over-the-top it’s real, bad-for-good yearning of Steinman and the Loaf. You’re probably supposed to say Springsteen if you’re a music journalist, but no, Lana is all heaven can wait on a summer night for crying out loud. All revved up to go nowhere in particular. “Del Rey”, says her backdrop. Not Lana. Del Rey, bitch. Suck it up. She has attitude, which her believers pick up and feed on, but between songs is all humility. “Thank you for sticking it out through the rain”. They have and they are sodden and soaked and swooning.

Newer songs like 'Cherry', 'White Mustang' and 'Music To Watch Boys To' sigh and tremble but the low Norwegian sky truly gets something in its eye when the already-vintage post-vintage meta-vintage anti-anthems come out. 'Blue Jeans' and 'Ultraviolence' (one of her favourites, she murmurs, defiantly) keep the modern blues dial at ten. The lipstick-killer stretch, the 1-2-3 which asserts she is the greatest contemporary pop star, comes with 'Ride' followed by 'Love' followed by 'Video Games'. These, along with 'Born To Die', are unquestionably among the ten best songs of this century. I hear The Marvelettes, somehow, impossibly, delivered with the bombast of Mahler but the whispered restraint of Cowboy Junkies. If some find it “problematic” that in her lyrics she sometimes likes the bad boys, or uses the insane-girls-are-hot theory promoted by classic male-gaze French cinema, I’d argue that telling people who they are and aren’t allowed to love - and why - is the ultimate exercise in futility. Who are you, our parents? You don’t understand! I hate you! I didn’t ask to be born! I’ve got a war in my mind! Lana knows how love goes, and if you feel it you believe. Del Rey knows we believe. You are the only one who gets me, the awed crowd transmit to their chosen pop idol. It’s still a bit weird for her, but she’s getting used to it. It’s a long time since I witnessed such electricity in the air at a pop concert. To achieve this with undiluted melancholia in an age of glibness is quite a thing. I once shook hands with her and said, “I really like 'Ride'. Beautiful song.” “Oh, thanks very much,” she said.

Oslo shows the correct response and for the next two days becomes so sunny and warm that the previous day seems like it was from another world, as it was. Naturally one takes advantage and visits the glories of the galleries, the Vigeland Park with its gigantic, almost demented sculptures reaching for God, the harbour with its boats sleep-drifting towards the fjords, the shouldn’t-work-but-does mash-up of old and new which constitutes Europe’s fastest-growing city. Oya, now in its 18th year, changed venues in 2014: it’s now bigger but busier, with six stages (plus numerous extra-curricular events). Its curators embrace a broad musical church. The current setting in a massive sloped, hilly park means fantastic sight lines from anywhere: you can switch from being at the back with an overview of thousands to being down the front, or vice versa, in two minutes, although eventually your calf muscles feel it. I subjectively miss the charm of its former Mediaeval Park location but objectively appreciate this makes better logistical sense. It still has a relaxed, stress-free, easy-goingness that many festivals sorely lack. With the sun out, all seems well in its bucolic bubble.

Thursday afternoon sees Feist in a cocktail dress I’d decided was “more puce than purple” but which she declares is pink. She works hard to rouse the crowd from sun-slumbers to gusto and, impressively, succeeds. Her voice inevitably recalls compatriot Mary Margaret O’Hara. Hard to believe The Reminder is a decade old, and that remains her high water mark, but the jittery discomfort of 'Pleasure' gels better here than on record, with 'Century' (sans Jarvis Cocker) escalating within itself. The talented Canadian’s cavort with (Nina Simone’s 'Sea Lion Woman') 'Sealion' seems to liberate both herself and the audience. It’s cool that a performer who has, to all realistic intents and purposes, “made it”, is so willing to go the extra mile to make this hour happen rather than simply pass. That’s more than can be said for Mac DeMarco, whose laid-back slacker vibes slump into irritating mannerisms, frequent dead time, and an are-we-done-yet pub-band finale of jamming out Tequila, the old Champs chestnut, while swearing, for ages.

Elsewhere, Sampha is reviving Nu-Soul, and while he doesn’t yet have the material to make you want to replace your D’Angelo or Maxwell albums, he clearly has the toolkit, understands the blend of hot and cold which the genre requires, and is equipped, given time, to sail in her. Thee Oh Sees are his polar opposite, kicking up a racket which highlights how relatively scarce guitar rock is here. Spiritualized played with the Oslo Philharmonic at the Opera House at the same time as the Del Rey show, and Ryan Adams and band chug through a solid chunk of American denim rock which motors without ever really racing. By comparison, the evening’s headliners The xx feel positively futuristic, their clipped plaintive precision flowing across the night sky, crystallising. They mention their fond memories of Oya ever since they debuted here in 2010. I was present that night, and a quick click on my review on The Quietus tells me they were so quiet then that they were drowned out by a nearby firework display. There is no chance of that happening tonight: their deft sonic wallpaper with its interesting/impeccable gender-balance roles has become for their generation a key component of music’s rich tapestry.

Friday has Young M.A. shouting at us, then The Shins crafting to the converted: they’re meatier than US college indie is when it’s in your head. James Mercer is most likeable when they segue into Tom Petty’s 'American Girl' and he clearly massively enjoys it – as do we - then chuckles half-embarrassed it ends. Angel Olsen, in a shade of orange as retina-scorching as Feist’s pink, has evidently had the same late memo Mac DeMarco got about doing an hour instead of 45 minutes, and the early phase of her set is full of infuriating tuning-up breaks, band in-jokes and waffle about padding the set with jazz poetry over what appears to be a 'Gimme Shelter' improvisation. When they get their shit together, however, there’s enlightenment as to why she’s so highly thought of. No longer typecast as “the sad girl”, she’s a versatile singer and guitarist. Most telling moment: when she introduces the silver-suited band then adds, “And me, well, I’m still finding myself.”

Pixies. In 2017. Still a thing after all these years? Hell yes, as it goes. I’ve not seen them live since the olden days, when Kim Deal was still present. (I’m the only British person ever to have a single produced by her; ask your parents). Couldn’t imagine them without her. She was The Personality of the unit. But a few tight, thunderous bars tonight and the muscle memory’s locked in again. Paz Lenchantin does a sterling job in Kim’s role, and Charles I mean Frank I mean Black is still a mean machine. He says nothing, but hollers plenty. His glasses steam up. There’s less hair on their heads but Joey Santiago, a genius at when to drop in with a guitar squeal, still looks like the world’s friendliest poker shark, and David Lovering was always a potent pulse of a drummer. They mix their newer stuff in with the greats expertly: these tunes are a barrage of barracudas doing the bossa nova. You can just picture the mob scenes during 'Monkey Gone To Heaven', 'Debaser' and 'Where Is My Mind'. I still couldn’t tell you what makes Pixies so much mightier than a million other rock bands – I never could, even though history has proven it to be true - but it ain’t nothing but big big fun. Walking back from Oya past the building where Ibsen checked his watch at noon every day, I clock that once again this most friendly and feelgood of festivals has recharged my lust for life. Road is long, we carry on.