Abel Tesfaye and his new band stopped off at the Center Stage in Atlanta for yet another sold out show. The Weeknd have joined the likes of M83 and James Blake in record ticket sales for relatively small acts. Tickets for the San Francisco show at The Fillmore are going for as much as $200 each. I think it’s safe to say that the enigma that starting posting tracks on YouTube in 2010 has become an overnight sensation thanks to a trilogy of mixtapes and a highly praised performance at Coachella. Depending on where you stand, this could be a really good thing, or a really bad thing. After last night’s performance, I will admit I have mixed emotions.
Let me start out with the positive. Tesfaye was on it! Working the young crowd like they were putty in his hands, a simple crotch grab had the girls screaming like he was the second coming of Micheal Jackson and Tupac all rolled into a one package. Not that the adorning fans in the front row would have even noticed, but the band was incredibly tight as well. Especially for having just come together recently. Bathed in a pale blue light, the trio not only brought an element to The Weeknd’s stage presence that would have been lacking with a DJ, they also knew their place — in the background. No one goes to a Prince show to watch the Revolution — it’s all about the man up front.
The venue was perfect as well. Just over 1,000 in capacity, there was enough standing room in front of the stage for anyone who wanted it and just enough seats to accommodate those who wanted to watch in comfort. The sound was excellent, and the lighting engineer must have studied the setlist, because every strobe, flash and transition matched the soundtrack with absolute precision. In fact, the whole show was precise. It seemed like this young artist and his crew had been doing this for years, not weeks.
So what didn’t I like about the show? Well, the truth is, I don’t think I wanted to see The Weeknd live…ever. When House of Balloons was released, I didn’t know who Abel Tesfaye was and I liked it that way. It was so dark, so twisted, so real — the black-and-white cover of a naked chick in the bathtub with balloons all around her. It was more than a mixtape, it was an invitation to the party, and more importantly, the after party — the place where naked chicks end up passed out (or worse) in bathtubs with balloons. If you have been there, you knew it wasn’t supposed to be funny. If you haven’t been there, then it allowed you to observe from a safe distance.
This was not Jodeci. This was not Keith Sweat or D’Angelo. The House of Balloons was something as dangerous as it was mysterious. So once Tesfaye’s identity was made public and Thursday was released, I had my doubts about the future of this project, but then Echoes of Silence followed and all doubt was cast aside as the Internet practically crashed as everyone rushed to download the latest. At this point, we knew the man behind the music, but it was the nameless women who still graced the covers. Most images of the artist himself were black-and-white — keeping with this air of mystery — setting him apart from others in this contemporary r&b space. That was all destroyed the moment he walked on stage. It’s something that could not be avoided. Once The Weeknd becomes a person, it all changes. And that’s why I shouldn’t have been at the show last night. To see kids screaming his name, chanting ‘XO‘ with phones in the air, singing along with every song (this ain’t no fuckin sing-along, so girl, what you singing for?)…it just shattered the mystery like a girl falling through a glass table top, leaving us with nothing more than another r&b show — transforming The Weeknd into just another r&b act, albeit a damn good one, but one just the same.
I will keep my fingers crossed that Tesfaye’s face doesn’t mark the cover of the next album. I will hold onto a world where he won’t be playing some Summer Jam next to Drake and Chris Brown. But I have a feeling I’m going to be disappointed.