Wednesday 27 November 2013

The Weeknd @ The O2 Arena

Both The Weeknd and his support act Banks have a sense of the futuristic about them.  Their music is dark and moody, with space age synths and cinematic beats.

With Banks, though, the futuristic reference is twofold - this singer from LA is definitely one to watch for 2014.  Her high, fragile voice has a pronounced vibrato that contrasts with the grinding laser synths and pounding drums - of breakthrough single Waiting Game especially.  Alongside tracks taken from her most recent EP 'London' - named after the city she "fell in love with" - she performed an exposed, acoustic version of Warm Water that revealed her soul roots and a cover of Lauren Hill's Ex-Factor (another major inspiration).  "Every woman is a fucking goddess", she cried and as she slinked and strutted across the stage, this was only plain to see.

Backed by futuristic Japanese neon signs and with a set divided by animé adverts, the epic sound of The Weeknd (a.k.a Abel Tesfaye) was almost as overwhelming as the reception he received from the crowd.  Having only released his second album earlier this year, he seemed surprised to have sold out the O2 Arena at this relatively early stage in his career.  Yet the crowd was filled with devoted fans, who were overjoyed that Tesfaye performed "the motherfucking classics" from his previous 'Trilogy' album as well as tracks from his most recent album 'Kiss Land'.

What was most remarkable, however, were his skills as a showman.  In a nod to his mysterious persona when releasing his early mixtapes, the opening number was sung from behind a veil.  But when the veil dropped, Tesfaye emerged singing in his high-pitched falsetto, spinning and dancing around the stage and conducting his incredible musicians.  In the live arena, the Michael Jackson comparison is more pronounced than ever.

And like all good showmen, Tesfaye knows how to play to his audience - an audience of predominantly female Londoners singing back every one of his sordid lyrics.  "Can I make it sexy for you London?", he asked before hip-grinding and flicking his tongue at the camera and the legions of screaming fans.  And in the finale he claimed "I never write a song without thinking what would the UK think of it", before plunging into a final rendition of Wanderlust dedicated to the country.

Tesfaye had already proven himself musically on his albums (in particular his exceptional mixtape 'House Of Balloons'), but with this gig he also showed he can put on a great show, despite pandering to the audience.  The future is definitely bright.


Listen: 'Trilogy' and 'Kiss Land' are both available now.