Concert Review: The Weeknd Croons With First Avenue

June 19, 2012

Just think about how the Internet made this happen.” 

Yes, this is a quote that could be said about numerous things that occur every day. The Internet does, after all, tend to make a lot of interesting stuff happen. But Sunday’s First Avenue Mainroom concert put on by the Toronto-based R&B act The Weeknd was one of those times when I look around at a group of people doing something together (singing “The Morning,” in this case) and become stunned by how the Web contributed to making the communal experience possible.

The Weeknd is the stage name for 22-year old Abel Tesfaye, who has built a large following despite not having an album in stores, doing a single media interview (“he turned down the New York Times!”), being on the radio, having a traditional single or, until recently, even attaching his face to his music. You know, typical ways to raise awareness. All of his music, a trilogy of free mixtapes (Soundcloud page here), has been released exclusively on his website. Fifteen months after uploading that first free album, he sold out First Avenue and had the crowd singing along to every gloomy word. Pretty impressive.

This is not to say that savvy self-promotion tricked Minneapolis into packing a club on a rainy Sunday night. No, the guy has the unique sound to back it up. As a member of the new wave, more introspective sub-category of recent hip-hop and R&B (think Drake and Kanye’s most emo material), I wondered how Tesfaye’s woozy six-minute slow jams would translate to a live setting.

Even as it was clear that some people in the audience were ready for the live band (good call, by the way) to kick off a new dance song, Tesfaye ignored pacing and showmanship and instead crooned away, belting out his signature sorrow-filled falsetto and lyrics about dark themes for long periods. The audience was invested at this point, appreciative of how different the eerie music was and still compelled by the myth of The Weeknd.

Sunday’s bleak sing-along session started after a longish wait (45 minutes) and during a rather short set (75-85 minutes including his two encores) and while it was clear that it might’ve only been Tesfaye’s eighth live show or something, it all felt very appropriate. As did the final song of the evening, “Wicked Games,” a song with a chorus that fittingly rhymes ‘shame’ with ‘pain’ with ‘fame.’ When the song ended, our performer merely walked off the stage, adding to his mystery. No theatrics, no further hint to indicate if he’s actually living his lyrics.

The amazing rain that welcomed the crowd outside after the show seemed fake, like it was part of the show. If there’s a style of music that comes to my mind during a rainy Sunday night in June, it’s undoubtedly The Weeknd’s – even just in his name a mix of “weekend” and “weakened.” No one even cared they forgot their umbrella.

Photo credit: Thanks to Annembabby for the Instagram photo. Much better than anything I was able to get.