BLOG: The Weeknd in London
Emancipated rudeboys gush at the Electric Ballroom
A couple of last-minute free tickets for the first of The Weeknd's four-night residency at Camden's Electric Ballroom landed in my hands last night, much to my delight. The Canadian-Ethopian dark R&B star, name Abel Tesfaye, has enjoyed a rapid (and occasionally controversial) rise to fame has been well documented by every blog under the sun, so I won't regurgitate anything therein.
Suffice to say that his live show exceeded all of my expectations and hopes – a rare feat in today's day and age of online omnipresence. To be fair though, his decision to shun press coverage and social media verbosity works to this advantage, keeping his music at least partially shrouded in the air of mystery so often referenced as to hang around him.
His band are absolutely incredible, with his beautifully morose, seemingly languid tracks elevated to intense, all-encompassing, hypercharged versions of renditions. A perfectly EQed soundsystem is an absolute rarity, but the driving sub, punchy snares and general crispness tonight ensure that no detail is lost and that maximum energy is delivered.
And that voice – if you thought it sounded amazing on record, wait until you hear it in the flesh. That frequently off-key Coachella performance from last year was soon forgotten, his astonishing delivery a carefully-honed product of months of rehearsals with this seriously talented group of musicians. There are moments when comparisons with Michael Jackson – obviously a key influence on him – aren't untoward. If MJ was still alive, I'd have put my money on a collaboration happening. There's just something about his voice that really makes you believe and feel what he's saying, in contrast to the reams of empty, soulless, going-through-the-motions R&B artists out there. His trademark woah-oh-ohhs obtain a spiritual power in this live setting, a passionate full house crooning in unison and singing much of his set word for word back at him.
Some sociological analysis of the crowd. There's many an erstwhile rudeboy singing his heart out and leaping for joy, an archetype who just a few years ago was most likely solely the preserve of machismo and screwfacing, now emancipated from such brutish one-dimensionalism thanks to the new wave of emo-hipster R&B crooners that this star, Drake and Frank Ocean are at the vanguard of. It's both hilarious and strangely touching to see people dressed in the stereotypical drapes of a posturing, overtly-hetero sub-culture getting in touch with their soft side, as if they've been waiting all their life for someone to make it OK for them to display their sensitivity and like 'girly' music. I'm probably reading into this too much, but I definitely expected a more hipster crowd – a refreshing surprise. Is it not cool for hipsters to have feelings these days? I can't keep up.
Tesfaye tells us he wanted to play these intimate shows – at a slightly surprising venue choice – so he could see all our faces before his string of arena dates later this year. On the basis of this show, they're ready to take on those vast spaces, with an epic sound that owes as much to emotive stadium rock as it does to dark, melodic dubstep rhythm, yearning '80s soul and the sweetest '90s R&B. Go see him when he plays the O2 Arena later this year and marvel at a unique talent who is flourishing in his element.