In line with the 80’s sci-fi themes of his latest album Starboy, Abel Tesfaye, better known as the Weeknd, opened his show at Capital One Arena on Sept. 15 amidst clouds of smoke. As an illuminated spaceship-like structure slowly rose above the stage to dramatic, synthesized organ music, he dove into the title track of his aforementioned third album. The Weeknd propelled the performance through his energy, excitement of the audience, and overall rock concert vibe.
The Weeknd has been categorized in the alternative, or “dark,” R&B genre. This was certainly true of his earlier work, especially his mixtapes, like “Trilogy,” that first caught the attention of critics and Drake alike. Yet the Weeknd’s latest album was heavy on 80’s pop and rock influences, which was emphasized in the concert by the flashy staging and Tesfaye’s oversized denim jacket. Consistent through all of his work, however, are the subjects of his songs: “poppin pills,” girls, and “living life so trill,” to paraphrase a line from “Tell Your Friends.”
Although the Weeknd has been criticized for recycling the same themes throughout his songs, it is clear that he is no stranger to his subjects. The Weeknd’s persona is that of a bad boy with a broken heart who wants you to revel in his pain. His tracks kept the crowd dancing through the two-hour concert even while he sang about loneliness, heartbreak, and the insufficiency of substances to shut out his insecurity. The magic behind this dynamic is in his honesty – the audience could really see the emotion he put into each song. Whereas the self-assured, boastful themes of some rap and popular music can feel artificial, listeners can relate to the Weeknd on a more authentic level. For this reason, the choice of Gucci Mane as one of two openers – the other was fellow Canadian, Nav – felt discordant to the main show, although this line-up might be explained by The Weeknd’s recent feature on Gucci’s new single, “Curve.”
The set list drew heavily from Starboy, but he also performed earlier songs, specifically “The Morning” and “Wicked Games.” These songs were recognized, as he phrased it in his introduction, by the “OG” fans who promptly roared in approval, proving that not all of the audience was there solely to hear more recent crowd pleasers as “I Can’t Feel My Face” or “Earned It,” from the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack. The Weeknd’s sultry falsetto worked for all of these songs, demonstrating the variety and versatility in his music. The passion and sensuality he expressed in his performance put to rest any question about how he has managed to date stars such as Bella Hadid and Selena Gomez. The gentleness of his puppy dog eyes and the humble bow he took as he paused to listen to his fans’ adoring applause made one hope that, if he isn’t finding solace in drugs or love, he is at least finding satisfaction singing about them. It certainly seemed to give the audience some consolation to watch and hear him share his sins and sorrows.