When we picked Toronto’s The Weeknd as our favorite performance at this year’s Coachella, it was a week before he brought out Kanye West for his second weekend set and months before he climbed the singles charts with “Can’t Feel My Face” and “The Hills”, and his second proper album, Beauty Behind the Madness, earned a favorable response from both critics and fans. Closing out the main stage after true headliner Jack White, Abel Tesfaye was more commanding than ever, shedding any shyness that he’d displayed in his early years and replacing it with stage presence and sheer will. In short, The Weeknd had become a star even before he had the numbers to back it up.
Now, with a pair of sold-out performances at the Forum in Los Angeles as just part of a massive arena tour, The Weeknd is making good on his promise. The question is less how high his stock will rise and more how long it can last. Tesfaye addressed this mid-set, using his frequent coupling rhetoric to draw out his intention as an artist. “I think this is a relationship that is going to last a long time,” he told the audience, earning a roar of approval, his fans just as interested in something long-term as he is.
For his part, the Weeknd is doing more than just growing as a performer. Tuesday night’s performance was about delivering a total package. This included a couple of fast-rising opening acts: Travis Scott, whom could be massive if his songs could match his command onstage and his delivery, and Halsey, whose rapid rise in popularity seems a little less built to last than those she shared the stage with.
In terms of production, nothing will likely top the Japanese-influenced Kiss Land stage setup that was unfortunately timed, with Tesfaye’s capability not yet matching his ambition. But his current tour is certainly state-of-the-art, with LED lights lining both the front and back of the stage, scissor lifts taking the singer up into the rafters, and even some mid-set use of fire to give his “King of the Fall”/”Crew Love”/”Or Nah”/”Professional” medley some punch.
The setlist focused mainly on the new material, which seemed fine as even the last album’s deep cuts have apparently found a significant audience to sing along with Tesfaye’s high-pitched pleas. But The Weeknd’s titanic debut mixtape, House of Balloons, was still well represented, while Thursday‘s “The Birds, Part 1” was dedicated to all the “day one fans.” It was a little surprising to see Kiss Land nearly absent from the performance, but that might speak as much to the release’s lukewarm reception as to Tesfaye’s desire to focus on his latest output.
Which is interesting, because with artists as young as The Weeknd, you don’t usually recover so completely from an apparent misstep like Kiss Land. And now as an arena artist, it’s hard to think this was the original goal, way back when Tesfaye was content popping up on Drake songs and releasing his own music for free. At some point, whether it was of his own volition or through people whispering in his ear, Tesfaye’s ambitions shot upward, and regardless of why his aim has grown higher, the realization of those lofty goals has been impressive to witness. “Every time I play LA, the venues seem to get bigger,” Tesfaye would note, and the crowd could say the same thing. Every time we see The Weeknd, he seems even more larger than life.
High for This
The Party & The After Party
King of the Fall / Crew Love / Or Nah / Professional
House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls
Tell Your Friends
The Birds, Part 1
As You Are
D.D. / In the Night
Can’t Feel My Face