Opening up for a headliner can be a huge challenge but Anna Lunoe, the DJ who hails from Sydney, Australia held it down with good music and energy as she prepped for the opening act. L.A. singer BANKS clearly has a voice, but it wasn’t her song “Waiting Game” that won us over. When she began belting out Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor” everyone froze and then nodded as she hit all the right notes. I’m not sure if it was because she sang it so well that Ms. Hill would be proud or because she was white and it was totally unexpected for her to go left field. When she finished the audience anxiously waited for the Ethiopian wonder to make his presence felt.
Abel Tesfaye is the once bitten, twice shy singer/songwriter/producer out of Canada whose name might not ring a bell immediately. Ask people about The Weeknd and the conversation will shift quickly. Not known for making bold fashion statements, his artistic grunge aesthetic balances perfectly with what blows everyone’s mind and that is his perfectly crafted voice that remains without blemish.
When he hit the stage Monday night in Atlanta with an aura of darkness and dreads awry, the only momentary view of color on his body was XO written in green across his shirt. XO is the name his crew goes by and arguments on both sides are valid for it meaning hugs and kisses or ecstasy and oxycontin. Either way it doesn’t matter. What does is his unquestionable talent which speaks more than either of the aforementioned theories.
When he became visible, reverberation of screams filled the immaculate theatre. Being the humble person that he is, he bowed to the audience and then to his hard hitting 3-piece band members L.J., Ricky and Patrick. He directed the band like a forceful orchestra director with erratic hand gestures before taking a moment to share a few words.
“I came all the way from Canada to around the world to finally here in Atlanta just to see you tonight…Now some of you might know [or] might not know, but I hadn’t left my city for 21 years until like 2 years ago. My first time ever on a plane was actually my first tour ever- just to see you to be honest with you. Even though I wrote Kiss Land around the world I had written House of Balloons, Echoes of Silence and Thursday in Toronto,” he said.
With an obvious fascination with Japanese culture, his set transformed often ablaze with bright neon images similar to those prevalent in downtown Tokyo. Beginning with the songs from his current album Kiss Land it wasn’t long before he went into the title track which made the audience involuntary voyeurs to acts too risqué to mention. Nobody seemed to mind, and many were intrigued as they recorded it on their phones. After a few thrusts and unforgiving pulsating licks of the tongue we all knew what was up and exactly what was on his mind. It was going to be a journey and an experience shared by the otherwise secluded singer.
His lyrics which are full of sexual escapades and bold statements make you feel like you’re listening to the most gutter Hip-Hop song, but with a voice as beautiful as his, it comes out sounding unadulterated. His album which came in at #1 on the charts selling 99,000 units in the first week gives him all the more reason to celebrate and share his inhibitions, even if they are intensely erotic and filled with self-indulgence. It seems to be working quite well for him.
Covering most of the classics in his previous release Trilogy, including “What You Need,” “House Of Balloons,” “The Party” and “The Morning” the crowd became more excited when he added his features “Crew Love” from Drake’s Take Care album and “Remember You” from Wiz Khalifa’s O.N.I.F.C. album.
The finale was “Wicked Games,” which appropriately titled speaks candidly expressing pain, lack of confidence and the transparency of women around an artist. The Weeknd swiftly puts his fears on the table and then turns the song from melancholy to captivating as he decides to make the best of the night, even if it’s just fantasy. The concept is outright genius if you ask me.
This was an outstanding performance and the best part is that he is just getting warmed up. His stage presence is deliciously fascinating. Considering that he has avoided media and just did his first interview for the September issue of Complex, it appears that he is coming out of his shell and allowing the world to get to know him beyond his music. He will be around for a very long time, so become familiar with his work. His name will resonate with the likes of R. Kelly, Prince and Michael Jackson.