Getting to the Greek Theatre is a uniformly sucky experience. The venue is great, but it’s tucked away in the hillsides of northern Los Angeles in a location that’s better suited to cyclists and dog-walkers. That said, getting a chance to see my favorite debauched R&B singer was a treat.
Had I arrived earlier, I would’ve also gotten to see Banks. I’ve mentioned how fond I am of her music before. The two artists have an interesting dynamic when it comes to their favorite song themes. Regardless, I arrived amongst the throngs of women (and a surprising number of dudes) ready to hear Abel Tesfaye seduce everyone within earshot.
Here’s the thing about The Weeknd. His voice live is amazingly accurate when compared to the vocals on his albums. It’s eerie. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not uncanny to the point where you think he might be lip-synching. It’s just that Abel can really sing. Going to the live show is not going to convert anyone who either can’t deal with Abel’s Michael Jackson-esque warbles or has trouble digesting his often explicit lyrical content. No, you should know what you’re getting into. This is dark, sexy, damaged music. Not PG-13 at all.
Photography by Sasha Becerra
The Weeknd’s stage setup fits his futuristic-sex-dystopia theme well. Surrounding Abel is a grid of light boards. Japanese characters stream up and down like the neon signs you’d see in some cyber-punk fantasy lane. The whole thing felt ripped out of a neo-Tokyo back alley where a hardboiled detective might go to drink whiskey and enjoy the company of a cyborg geisha.
The crowd ate it up. As you might expect, it was mostly women. What surprised me was how many guys seemed to be enjoying themselves completely. I think that’s part of The Weeknd’s appeal in the first place. Though he does go through crises of confidence in his lyrics, his character never admits losing control, which is a kind of confidence in its own way, even if the behavior discussed within his music is totally out of control.
I mean, tweaking all day? Sipping lean until the morning? XO ’til I overdose? Lyrically, there’s nothing about The Weeknd that merits restraint. He’s in love with “the life,” as he calls it, and on the whole, his new album Kiss Land, which was just released on September 10th, is sort of an autobiographical take on love, sex, and drugs for The Weeknd. He lives a crazy life, but not without acknowledging the sad nuances and hollowness of his relationships…if you can call them that.
The Weeknd’s show was largely cuts from Kiss Land, which is fine. It’s a great album and my favorite R&B record of the year so far, barely beating out AlunaGeorge’s Body Music. The highlight for this night was definitely “Kiss Land.” Easily, it’s the most aggressive and lewd track off the record, and the stage visuals were…appropriate.
By appropriate, I mean they were filled with lesbian porn. We’re talking the kind of stuff you delete from your browser history. To quote my photographer (whose jaw went slack with shock at the scene), “That was full on porn! Like, with V and everything!” If you’re really interested, the music video covers much of the same flesh in a more tame way.
Again, though, “tame” is not what The Weeknd is all about. The lifestyle he’s professing to live is hedonistic beyond the point of good taste. I guess that’s what kicking it with Juicy J gets you.
Another highlight of the night was “Belong to the World.” It’s a good song in its own right, but it’s always going to be weird to hear that Portishead “Machine Gun” sample. I know Abel says, “It’s not a sample.” It’s probably not. I can’t imagine it’s difficult to synthesize that noise on a computer, but it’s the same fucking sound and it’s weird to hear it without Beth Gibbons. Those two need to stop, collaborate, and let us listen. Could you imagine a Portishead/Weeknd crossover? That EP would cause a spike in pregnancies and heroin addictions overnight…and I would love every sultry, moody bit of it.
Also, Drake showed up on stage for a moment to congratulate The Weeknd on having the number one album in the country. He also shouted out a jumble of letters, “OVOXO.” That might look like someone going nose first into the keyboard, but it’s actually a combination of Drake’s (October’s Very Own) and The Weeknd’s (XO) crews. Toronto stand up.
The live show is well worth the experience especially if you’re a fan of Kiss Land. The Weeknd played some of his older music from House of Balloons and Echos of Silence, but the live show is really worth seeing if you like his new stuff. If you’re not sure, check it out (for free!) on SoundCloud.
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