When Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd, took the stage on a heated but pleasant September night for opener “Adaptation”, he did so while enveloped by a scrim with a projection of a ghostly, animated face singing along. “Pull the curtain down!” exclaimed the frenzied fans in the front row in between naggings and grabbings of the photographers for daring to be in front of them ever so briefly. Once the veil dropped for “Love in the Sky”, what were once cheers advanced into a deafening cacophony of high-pitched squeals reminiscent of Beatlemania.
Some of the less hysterical attendees of his 2012 tours have noted a disconnection between Tesfaye and his audience that kept the live experience from being as fully engaging and potentially transcendent as it could have been. On Monday night, however, The Weeknd fully embraced his stardom at Los Angeles’ Greek Theatre by playing the part in animated fashion. His vocal haunts were as irresistibly pained as on MP3, even while unleashing the occasional homage to Michael Jackson’s fancy footwork or seductively gyrating.
Accompanying Tesfaye’s showmanship was a carefully crafted visual presentation that ranged from the subdued opening statement to an onslaught of blinding lights and flash effects. At the center of the Kiss Land tour’s artistic statement was an animated, Hello Kitty-esque mascot that bridged the more traditional light and fog moments with Asian-inspired animations and commercials. In a moment that was pure Weeknd, an X-rated romp starring adult film stars Asa Akira and London Keyes took over the screens during “Kiss Land”.
Despite the adoration, Tesfaye was as humble as ever, making sure the audience cheered for his backing band multiple times and repeatedly expressing his gratitude for not just playing Los Angeles but at The Greek two nights in a row. Aware that many in the audience have not yet digested Kiss Land, and possibly that it hasn’t had the same impact as his initial mixtapes, Tesfaye stated a preference for them being experienced tonight and a desire for everyone “to remember this moment for the rest of your lives,” before serenading with album standout “Pretty”.
An increasing number of artists are requesting (or demanding) that cell phones not be used during their performances. Tesfaye, instead, embraced them by instructing the crowd to raise their lighters or phones for encore “Wicked Games”. The sight of 5,000 mostly digital lights stunned, especially when the house lights were dimmed. The joy of singing along to The Weeknd’s first, and still greatest, hit was the long-awaited moment of climax after nearly 90 minutes of darkly sensual R & B. #mindblown