The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, has always been something of a mystery. The Toronto-based singer arrived on the scene anonymously with House Of Balloons, a collection of dark-edged R&B that he followed up with two more self-releases, Thursday and Echoes Of Silence. Along the way, his real name’s been revealed, and he’s signed to Universal Republic, performed at Coachella and become the poster boy for a new wave of R&B stars. Despite all this, Tesfaye has managed to stay out of the spotlight as much as possible, rarely making public appearances and never doing interviews. And in spite of that, it appears that he has become a bona fide star.
At Terminal 5 on Thursday, the first show of a sold-out three-night run in New York, Tesfaye was greeted with chants of his name (because there’s no better way to mythologize it than to hide it) before he took the stage for a night of making New York’s most-hated venue significantly more tolerable. The major label scale is clearly treating him well, with a stage set-up featuring several projection screens mostly showing footage of retro-styled women and lighting rigs resembling candles. It’s a production that’s tasteful, but also shows that he’s already a big name that’s going to continue on an upwards trajectory as he prepares to officially rerelease his mixtapes as a Trilogy.
Tesfaye surely has the chops to deliver on that promise. His sound gets beefed up with a live band, and his smooth voice holds strong outside of the studio. His songs of party ennui, including “Lonely Star” and “High For This,” maintain their natural resonance. Despite not developing his public persona much outside of Twitter, he’s developed an enormously devoted fanbase, one that turns every song into a singalong and immediately obliges a command for raised phones and lighters. “Wicked Games” from House Of Balloons has remained an obvious highlight of his oeuvre, getting one of the biggest reactions. For all that he’s done in secret, he’s gifted with the right kind of charisma needed to keep propelling his project.
Tesfaye spent the entire set wearing a ski jacket, something that made him an even more mystifying figure because it was about 100 degrees in there. Celsius.