The mixtape has always been a cornerstone to hip hop music, often used to create buzz for an artist as well as provide emcees with the creative space and freedom for artistic expression. Its resurgence in recent years has been brought on by the success stories of artists like Drake and J.Cole, but it has also served as a key element to the revival of the R&B movement. Case-in-point: Toronto- native Abel Tesfaye, who shocked the interwebs and music industry back in March with his brand of sultry, darkly twisted but gorgeous R&B tunes that arrived in the form of the “little mixtape that could” called House of Balloons. Since then, he hasn’t turned back.
Fresh off of his Polaris Prize nomination and the successful release of his second mixtape, Thursday, Abel the R&B singer (and full time seducer of all of humanity), more commonly known as The Weeknd embarked on his first pair of shows outside of Toronto this past weekend. Performing in London, Ontario on a cool October night, Abel demonstrated throughout his hour-long set that he is very much worthy of your undivided attention.
There’s been a significant amount of growth in The Weeknd’s performance since his last live appearance that took place at Drake’s OVO Festival, which was criticized due to the artist’s lack of stage presence. In the case of Sunday’s show, it would be near impossible to find any evidence to support such a claim. To truly thrive, Abel and his three-piece band needed the right conditions in order to take over, and for the first time in a while I witnessed how necessary it was to have the perfect crowd and setting to get a performance as heavy as we did.
The extremely dedicated following of The Weeknd that attended the show were too far-gone into the world of XO even before the show began. Can you really blame us? With the most hypnotizing production and a narrative so personal and encompassing like that of The Weeknd, it is easy to get lost in the loft parties, dangerous, unrequited love and the forbidden. When Abel made his way to the stage tucked into his Adidas track jacket and launched into a performance of his most commercial hit, High For This, you could practically feel yourself submitting to the complex, enticing world that The Weeknd depicts. Once you’re in, it’s hard to get out.
But The Weeknd’s music is the kind of escape you want to have, and in a live format, it’s the kind of escape that you need. It’s rare to find an artist being able to sound so identical to their recorded version, but Abel reached every note and made you feel so involved in his intricate stories, especially during the performances of House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls, Lone Star, The Party & the After Party, and Life of the Party. It was impressive that he was so continuous in his show, barely taking any breaks and including almost all of his major mixtape work into the set.
Every song required a big performance because of how large they are in sound and production originally. Some argue that House of Balloons is a cohesively better listen than Thursday, but the latter contains individual pieces that almost make the former look like child’s play. Interestingly, the set list reflected this. Favourites like Wicked Games, What You Need and Thursday were all performed to perfection, but it was when The Weeknd returned for a 15-minute encore that really proved that he is a must watch as an artist and a performer. Wrapping the show up with the biggest tracks off of Thursday, The Birds Part I, Part II, and The Zone, he reached new heights in his live show which demonstrated a greater confidence in his step as he jumped from one side of the stage to the other, his band equally committed to deliver an ending that would make us continue to crave all things XO.
Well, I know one thing: I’m still hungry.