The Weeknd shows Vancouver he's no wallflower
At the Pacific Coliseum on Saturday, September 29
The hype machine has been kind to Abel Tesfaye. In 2011, the Toronto R&B singer known as the Weeknd put out a trilogy of free online mixtapes and, with a little promotional help from his buddy Drake, generated a massive buzz without ever granting an interview or releasing his music commercially.
Don’t be taken in by his reclusive persona, however—as his headlining slot at the Pacific Coliseum proved, this dude was born to play arenas.
Admittedly, the building was well below capacity. With most of the seats curtained off, fans flocked to the floor, which was strewn with black balloons bearing the logo of the Weeknd’s XO crew. Still, headlining a half-full hockey rink was a hell of an accomplishment for Tesfaye, whose previous Vancouver show took place at the comparatively cozy Commodore Ballroom less than five months ago.
From the moment he sauntered on-stage wearing a puffy black jacket, the Weeknd oozed suave self-assurance. Opening with the steamy “Lonely Star,” he shuffled and shimmied, reaching out a hand to the fans and unleashing a soaring croon that sounded far more powerful live than on record. Then, a few songs later, he shamelessly hyped the punters by namedropping Vancouver and demanding that everyone “make some motherfucking noise.”
The crowd, quite naturally, obeyed the singer’s every command. The bulk of the audience members were under 30 and dressed to the nines, and they clapped along in unison during the dark and druggy “High for This.” Soon after that, they obliged Tesfaye’s request to hold up their lighters for the epically atmospheric “The Knowing.”
The latter tune culminated in a scorching guitar solo, which was the only moment of the night when Tesfaye’s backing players stole the spotlight away from the frontman. During the rest of the performance, the musicians lurked in the shadows at the back of the stage while reworking the Weeknd’s electro-driven songs with hard-hitting live arrangements.
Adding some visual interest to the proceedings were a handful of on-stage screens, which displayed grainy, vintage-looking videos that consisted largely of women writhing and eyeing the camera seductively.
These clips complimented the steamy subject matter of the lyrics, but they didn’t distract attention away from Tesfaye, who spent almost the entire set strutting at the front of the stage while occasionally urging the crowd to scream with a wave of his hand. He was especially animated during “The Morning,” and he demanded that concertgoers jump as his bandmates exploded into a double-time jam.
Prior to the stripped-down “Rolling Stone,” the Weeknd said, “Let me get sexy for you for a minute”. The loud screams from the female audience members confirmed that he was doing just that. As the song wound down, Tesfaye bowed to the crowd three times in an “I’m not worthy” gesture before exiting the stage in an uncharacteristic moment of humility.
Lest that seem too self-effacing a finale, however, he returned for a one-song encore of “Outside.” He told onlookers, “I want to hear you scream,” and spent his final moments on stage dancing up a storm and basking in yet more cheers. Reclusive? Hardly.