The Weeknd At Prudential Center, Sunday, June 4th, 2017, Reviewed
The first time I saw Abel Tesfaya -aka The Weeknd, was at Barclays with two turntables and a microphone opening for the opener for Drake -a plump but pleasant r&b guy with a hook or two up his sleeve, a moody attitude, and a bad haircut. The fifth time I saw The Weeknd (if you include his ppearance on was Sunday night at the Prudential Center and I skipped the third day of Governors Ball to do so. Gone is the haircut, gone is the high tech staging of the Beauty and Madness tour, much like his figure, The Weeknd had streamlined everything to a hit parade off a mixtape and two albums, a thin, mercurial straight down the middle r&b rock show, fast and furious with Belly and Rae Sremmurd (and Black) opening and sharing the stage for a song each, and Travis Scott an impressive surprise guest.
It could have been a complete triumph for the Toronto superstar and might have been as well, certainly there was the songs and the skills, but the evening was permeated with the air of arrogance. The Weeknd didn’t come on stage till nearly 940am and then didn’t play the main stage -where his three piece band plus backing tapes lived, working the T bone and running up and down the heart of the audience. It was, not unlike most of Abe’s decisions, a little odd. The professionalism was there but much like his sound, it was synthetic.; it was irritating.
Yet, what a strong set of songs he has to choose from. Sure, we are in manufactured Max Martin land, it is absolutely the idea of The Weeknd rather than any reality, we find, but it doesn’t matter, from “Acquainted” to “Starboy” to “The Hills” and beyond, the hits just keep on coming, the dream mare scope of bass and drums plus every tool in a computer with Abel a willing participant, singing his lungs out for all. The response was huge, the audience were of one in the opinion: this guy is the goods. While he has fast become just another performer, he is just another performer the way Drake is just another rapper: his sound is wrapped up in so much nihilism that like an exile from a Brett Easton Ellis novel, the trick is in not having them catch you yawn. Both energized and indolent, Abel spent the evening at a full sprint and so concentrated that you miss the holes in the cheese.Unlike his opening acts, especially Rae Srummurd, who came across like the essence of teenage happiness, Abel is a trap James Dean, a simulation of angst whose material is simply better written and better sold, it feels like Abel is manufactured but if so, why aren’t there more of him?
If The Weeknd had come on at 830 and left by 10 i’d have been impressed but it was an unforced error of a late night, and it affected everything… except for the audience. Who loved him. A twenty something bounce of bi-racial 20 somethings out for a party -and The Weeknd, even as he broods, provides it well. The set was state of the art, all pose all the time, and for the first time, Abel seemed capable of playing the audience as he wished, he paced himself and built walls within songs, walls he then collapsed in on himself, and while Starboy the album was a sophomore effort in every way possible except position in his catalog, it was still a hit. The Starboy persona has no reality, not even his own, but it works as a counter clock pop star award -think of it as Bowie without the artistry. Abel doesn’t really click with his audience, a mixed blessing, it keeps the cool white heat that is his calling card and however hard The Weeknd tries, he can’t break it down. The good news is that he doesn’t need to and, in fact, shouldn’t even try, it. He is better at a once remove, truer. It makes for fun pop though not good art.