Written and reviewed by: Julian Joerißen
When listening to Canadian-based singer The Weeknd one enters a shadowy sonic world of stark eroticism and drug-fueled excesses, always fighting the inevitable pain and shame of the comedown.
Using mellow and staggering beats in combination with his seductive falsetto, The Weeknd’s take on today’s RnB creates its own atmospheric sound-landscape and takes the listener on a trip full of sins. Telling his lascivious tales, he catapulted himself to the top. Now The Weeknd is one of the heads of a new RnB generation.
Born Abel Tesfaye in Scarborough, Ontario, February 16, 1990, he grew up listening to a variety of music genres, including soul, quiet storm, hip hop, funk, indie rock, and post-punk.
He dropped out of high school at the age of 17 and intended to leave for one weekend with his friends but he never came home. This is when he came up with his moniker ‘The Weeknd’, which had to be slightly altered to avoid copyright issues with a Canadian band called ‘The Weekend’.
In his early days a genuine mystery surrounded his persona, when nobody knew what the guy, who made this great and new RnB music, actually looked like. No pictures of Abel existed until a certain point of his career, because he was usually the man behind the camera and not the one who enjoyed standing in front of it.
Instead, The Weeknd let his music paint vivid pictures in the heads of his listeners. Accordingly, a growing fan base established itself that expanded even more rapidly when well-known rapper and later-collaborator Drake supported him publicly on Twitter.
From this point the musical extravaganza could fully begin, as The Weeknd only had to make the next step to release his first mixtape “House of Balloons” in 2011 for free to a critical acclaim (among others, Album of the Year 2011, according to Complex Magazine).
Loaded with songs he crafted over the years, he dropped two more mixtapes “Thursday” and “Echoes of Silence” also for free in the same year. Both received glowing reviews from critics. With these three mixtapes, he developed an enigmatic dark persona that would set him apart from other R&B artists like Chris Brown, Trey Songz or Usher. In 2012, a compilation album called “Trilogy” featuring all the songs from his mixtapes and some new songs was released in a joint venture between Republic and his own imprint label XO. But his first official debut did not come out until 2013. “Kiss Land” entered Billboard Hot 200 at No. 2 and topped RnB/Hip-Hop Albums. It received positive reviews from music critics and has spawned three singles yet: the title track, “Belong to the World” and the collaboration with Drake, “Live For”.
Kiss Land is supposed to symbolize the tour life, a terrifying and very unfamiliar world that Abel created in his head. Just like House of Balloons symbolized Toronto and his experiences ther
The Weeknd @ DAR Constitution Hall, Washington DC, 10/5/2013
“Please be advised, tonight’s show contains mature content,” said posters at each entrance to the DAR Constitution Hall. The classy, tradition-steeped venue had been transformed into a madhouse conquered by about 3.700 The Weeknd fans.
As the lights went out when the show began, the crowd made up mostly of female fans filled the hall with screams. A giant projection of The Weeknd’s face played on a gauzy curtain that disguised the man himself who stood behind it. He launched into a song from his new album, Kiss Land, called “Adaptation”, followed seamlessly by “Love In The Sky”.
Quickly the “mature content” became obvious. Several LED screens lit up with pornographic snippets around a stage designed according to the new album’s Japanese street aesthetic with lots of neon and rapid-fire videos and lighting effects.
From the start the crowd was enthralled, while The Weeknd continued with “Belong To The World”, “The Town” and a stripped down version of “What You Need”, serving as an intro for “Professional”. He then spoke to the crowd about this tour to promote his new album. But he also promised to play the classics from his previous mixtape trilogy.
As the crowd roared and cheered, he heralded the start of “House Of Balloons / Glass Table Girls “. Keeping his promise he followed up by performing further older songs like “Loft Music” and a great mashup of “The Morning”, “Remember You” and “The Zone”.
After the last chord of “The Zone” the lights went out and Abel went off the stage, leaving room for an intermission consisting of a kitschy Japanese advertisement in support of his album’s theme.
Building up the suspense, the beginning instrumental of his hit “High For This” resounded, before he again entered the stage and grabbed the microphone to start the song along with the crowd.
Abel then completed his Trilogy section with House Of Balloons favorite “The Party & The After Party”.
Accordingly, a Kiss Land track had to follow, and which one could have been more fitting than the title track of the new album? Finishing with that, one of the evening’s loudest sing-alongs was introduced with “Live For” and especially “Crew Love.” By then, Tesfaye could just stand back and let the crowd carry the tune.
With the audience in a state of euphoria, The Weeknd calmed the crowd to listen to his announcement that the next song would be a very special one for him. He turned his back to the fans, looking directly into a camera that showed him and the audience in the background on each of the LED screens. Following this ‘Kodak moment’, The Weeknd started to perform “Pretty” in a way that let the crowd witness one of the most intense, emotional and powerful song-performances of the night. His face was captured in a close up from the camera, clearly revealing his passion. He then announced “Wanderlust”, another Kiss Land song that is both up-tempo and of the strongest tracks from his new album.
Seemingly like a well-fitting ending, The Weeknd asked the audience to applaud one last time for his tour-band before saying good bye and disappearing from the stage.
The lights went off and the music silenced. Still, every true The Weeknd fan knew that the show could not be over without the performance of his breakthrough single and absolute fan favorite “Wicked Games.”
As the crowd anticipated, Abel took the stage one last time after a short break and made everyone hold up their lighters or cell phones. Flooding the DAR Constitution Hall with an ocean of lights, he created a beautiful, warm and intimate atmosphere for his final song. Once again, The Weeknd had every fan singing along with the top of their lungs before he ultimately thanked the crowd for this great evening and left the stage.
All in all, Abel Tesfaye delivered a very confident performance, going all out at each of his songs and singing from the bottom of his heart. He was much improved from shows in his beginning years, when his live voice was often weak and his performance static.
The set featured a well-paced balance of songs from the new album and his Trilogy era. However, the crux of such a long catalog of incredibly good songs is that many ones, especially titles of his mixtapes “Thursday” and “Echoes Of Silence” were missing from his rather short performance of roughly 70 minutes.
While many people love Abel’s music and saw a great concert, some critics are still eager to take The Weeknd to task for his explicit shows and music. But the more interesting question to ask is why so many young people are drawn to his dark-lit tales where numbing amounts of drugs and loveless sexuality are daily business…
The Weeknd ‘Kiss Land Tour’ Setlist:
2. Love In The Sky
3. Belong To The World
4. The Town
5. What You Need / Professional
6. House Of Balloons / Glass Table
7. Loft Music
8. The Morning / Remember You / The Zone
9. High For This
10. The Party & The After Party
11. Kiss Land
12. Live For / Crew Love
15. Wicked Games (Encore)
4/5 Stars (Very good)