As The Weeknd blended a cocktail of bacchanalian excess and uninhibited regret, the DCU Center swelled with raucous ennui. From the opening note, Worcester raised high their voices, arms, and cell phones to capture all that is Abel Tesfaye. Perhaps that is why he began the show from behind a meshed cage, one part projection screen but also one part metaphor for trapped emotion. For the all the dirty details shared by The Weeknd and his The Madness tour, Abel’s default status is a lyric from 2013’s Kiss Land: “This ain’t nothing to relate to.”
Arena shows often suffer from the very thing that makes them arena shows: a large audience. Sure, lots of folks love the band but many buy tickets simply for two popular songs and Instagram likes. Not so for The Weeknd. Tesfaye has managed through mixtapes and albums to attract a broad base of zealous fans, men, and women who chant out his staccato hooks or attempt to mimic his vocal runs. As such, the ubiquity of “Can’t Feel My Face” becomes an afterthought. What really matters is that everyone sings out every lyric to make sure The Weeknd knows just how much his music means.
The set list unpacked much of Beauty Behind the Madness, choosing musical tone over thematic arrangement of the songs. Initial cuts, heavy on synth, accompanied Tesfaye as his stage elevated 30 feet in the air, firmly placed above audience and his three piece band. Lowered back to the stage, and the cage lifted away, Tesfaye filled his mic with song after song; the absence of banter or even a slight pause between songs made for an emotionally and physically exhausting experience. Midway through the set, Tesfaye looked up at the band and with a grin decided to introduce the guitarist, drummer, and bass/keyboarder, “before we get started.” From there, and the throbbing grove of “Tell Your Friends,” the show shifted to low key emotion and lighting. Bathed in blue, silhouetted by the an immense bank of LED spotlights, The Weeknd delved deeper into tracks like “Birds 1” and let a few people take a seat for the first time in over an hour.
They needed the rest as encore brought back some epic flamethrower effects on “The Hills,” which should be noted as 2015’s song of the year. In the retina burning conclusion, eyesight became distorted. Spots of red and blue, flung deep into the mind from Tetris-Qbert lighting rigs, struggled to locate Tesfaye on stage. Even after 120 minutes of unrelenting music, there was a feeling this had all been a mirage. Did we all just commune over an Ethiopian-Canadian singer-song writer, exorcizing our fears and regrets, together? Yes. I think.