The audience screamed as if being consumed by the flames that flickered across the video screen at the back of the stage.
It was the only fire of the evening.
The inferno was a visual representation of a singer, Lana Del Rey, who claimed to be “shining like a fiery beacon” in a song, “Gods & Monsters,” about not just losing one’s innocence, but willfully tossing it off like she was flicking away a cigarette butt.
Nevertheless, the blaze was mere theater: In terms of showmanship, Del Rey didn’t generate enough heat to singe a marshmallow.
It didn’t matter.
The capacity crowd at the Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan on Friday still rewarded her every gesture — not that there were many — with the kind of elated shrieks that surely heightened the demand for throat-soothing Chloraseptic the following day.
Bu what were they cheering for?
It couldn’t have been Del Rey’s barely-there mirage of a performance, which came and went in 75 largely unremarkable minutes.
No, they must have been applauding the idea of Lana Del Rey, because at this point, that’s what she is: an idea, a composite character, part jazz chanteuse, trip-hop femme fatale and bad-girl caricature, a synthesis of Jessica Rabbit, Beth Gibbons, Billie Holiday and what’s-her-name from the Sneaker Pimps.
On the song in question, Del Rey even seems to allude to as much.
“Like a groupie incognito posing as a real singer / Life imitates art,” she sang, all but winking at anyone within earshot.
The knock on Del Rey, at least at first, was that she was merely playing a role, as her words above suggest.
Detractors pointed to that fact that she began her career in music under another name, Lizzy Grant, with an entirely different image, performing more straightforward pop before adopting her current persona.
As such, she’s been branded a fake by some, a Hannah Montana for those who have outgrown Hannah Montana.
But, really, who cares if it is all an act if the act is well-executed?
What difference does it make if her repertoire is a byproduct of experience or fantasy as long as listeners want to experience the fantasy?
Motive doesn’t matter here, songs do, and at very worst, Del Rey is a highly compelling, convincing saleswoman on her breakout record, 2012’s “Born to Die.”
Onstage, however, the limits of this approach become much more constrictive.
Del Rey’s a halting, self-conscious performer, maybe because she’s not channeling that which comes natural to her.
Some musicians make great art by stepping outside of themselves and into another character entirely: We’re pretty sure David Bowie never communed with extraterrestrials, yet his Ziggy Stardust persona opened a whole new realm of creative inspiration not only for himself, but for rock and roll in general.
But it’s trickier proposition in Del Rey’s case because it’s never really clear, maybe not even to herself, what’s a true reflection of who she is and who she isn’t.
And so she comes across as a languid presence who haunts her songs instead of inhabiting them.
On Friday, sometimes it seemed as if she got lost in those songs, her ghostly voice, a husky purr, swallowed by the peels of guitar that animated “Body Electric” and the thunderous percussion of “Ride.”
Del Rey wasn’t distant in a detached way — she attempted to engage her fans, hopping down from the stage to sign autographs and pose for pictures for those up front early on in the show.
But she never really connected with the crowd in any meaningful way.
Still, Del Rey’s talents are obvious — she’s an enchanting singer and can be a clever lyricist — and so maybe the 27-year-old can learn to harness her abilities more consistently.
Moreover, for as stiff and perfunctory as her performance felt at The Chelsea, it had its moments, like a sensuous “Summertime Sadness” and a climactic, show-closing “National Anthem.”
On the latter number, Del Rey engaged in some back-and-forth with an object of her desire.
“He said to ‘be cool,’ but I’m already coolest,” she peacocked. “I said to ‘get real.’”
She’d do well to follow her own advice.
Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0476. Follow on Twitter @JasonBracelin.