Review -The Weeknd Beauty Behind the Madness Tour

The Weeknd
Beauty Behind the Madness Tour
November 3, 2015

It's been an AMAZING week for homegrown music in Toronto. From Kardinal's Kardi Gras at the Concert Hall to Michie Mee's birthday party at Tattoo with Roxanne Shante, DJ Lord Finesse and Collizhun from Tuff Dumplin Records, Mel Boogie and Maestro, all the way up to this...
On every level of possibility, Toronto music is killing shit.
Clack clack, reload! Bom bom!! Lick a shot!

Welp, after tonight's fantastic concert, Abel Tesfaye might have just taken the hometown crown from Aubrey Graham (even if it's just until we see 'Views'). The first of two sold-out shows at the ACC just went down, and it truly cemented The Weeknd as one of the best new artists of the modern musical generation, without question. He's been slowly, steadily, and surely improving with every new stage he conquers. Abel has come quite a ways since almost standing still the whole time when he was rocking Sound Academy...

But before we get to the headliner, peace and props to the opening acts of the first show of the North American Madness Tour. G.O.O.D. Music artist Travis Scott came out in black rugged b-boy gear and a Wild West cowboy stage motif (that he said was half stuck across the border) and did his thing. I liked his moment of humility when he confessed "this is my first arena tour, so thank you to The Weeknd and the XO crew"; that's real.  He didn't do too much to distance himself from being a Kanye West follow-fashion, with his vocals dripping wet with Auto-tune and his constant singing between raps. His fans ate it up though and were hella lit, as a few tunes from 'Radio' made a decent impression. Then of course, the T. Dot young MPC queen Wondagurl-produced banger 'Antidote' came on last, and smashed the arena good. Tun up time! Banks came on next, all sultry, dressed in a kind-of all black businesswoman bodysuit, and accompanied by a big screen and 3-piece live band. Her forward-thinking soulful tracks and occasionally grimey sweet whisperings had the crowd sitting down yet still fully engaged and appreciative of each smooth groove. 'Goddess' blessed the people best, and before long, she gracefully bowed out, and set the stage for the man of the hour.

A 20-foot triple-black metallic cage-screen encapsulated the back half of the rectangular-ish stage, and was framed by a dazzling array of lights hovering above, almost menacingly. Throughout the night, the stage would transform into an impressive variety of incarnations, yet it all began in a medium-security prison-like setting, with the band members elevated above the cage like wardens, supervising the madness.

A white light burst out of the darkness, and danced a mad pattern out of chaos into order, and from the dead abyss of nothingness, everyone was abruptly taken into the first song of the night, and the album: "Real Life". And there stood Abel, all-black everything, clad in some modern gear, a 3/4 length sweater, and them infamous dreadlocks starting anarchy on his head. Beauty within the madness, indeed. It never looked so good to see a street-raised Toronto artist selling out the Air Canada Center, tearing a new asshole in the venue with his Billboard-chart-topping Canadian R&B music. Is this real life? Wow. What a time to be alive.

"Losers" coming on second made me happy as hell... even though I think they should have repeated the second verse falsetto, since Labrinth wasn't there to do his part. Kanyeshrug. The song implodes and explodes simultaneously in a live environment. The people were clapping along to the bridge, singing rapturously, and by the time them glorious horns marched into the outro, The Weeknd was the Pied Piper of the show, no R. Kelly.

He broke the album sequence from here, and took the ACC on an excursion all around his catalogue from here on out. Next up was "Acquainted", with its serpentine slickness, and another one, before presenting a nicely electrifying mini-version of "High for This". Maybe the first song to start it all was still heavenly to hear, and the bombastic throbbing light display that came with it helped raise up the vibes, dem.

Few more hits, then it got real sexy. "Often" leaked out the speakers like lubrication and it seemed like everyone was moving together and chanting along, proud of their promiscuity. Finally, Toronto! So, moving on accordingly, it was time for some "Crew Love", which always gets people wide open, especially with those hard-ass drum kicks and ten-foot bursts of flame coming out of the stage!
Even though he didn't say much to the crowd in terms of stage banter, he expressed enough love for Toronto to spark ample local pride and respect. I've seen Abel many times over the past few years, and he's DEFINITELY grown as a performer and an entertainer, which were two things he wasn't able to claim to be, in the beginning. He even displayed some jazzy dance steps that shocked all who bore witness, and in the meme wake of Hotline-Bling-Gate, seeing The Weeknd actually dance dope was a delightful sight to behold.

And it don't stop. "Ohhhh/ohhhh..." came glistening out the speakers, as the stage time warped itself to a neon acid trip to the 80's and psychedelic grids and lazers lit up the stage blindingly as "Glass Table Girls" escalated the arena's energy once again. This was where he really took the show to the proverbial other level. Reminding us just how long he's been putting out zeitgeist-carving R&B, the sequence of songs was certainly unpredictable, but did its damnedest to prove that the Weeknd is a respectably well-rounded vocalist with an ever-expanding repertoire that is not only cutting-edge, but all his own artistry. 

There were times where a pregnant pause of just the right amount of time would cause an audience rapture when the song would come on. "Tell Your Friends" was one of those moments. The Kanye West-crafted rumor-spreading anthem chimed in hard as nails, with Abel talmbout "singing Queen Street anthems" as his guitarist tore up a vicious solo. Hot damn, the music sounded immaculate, even in that cavernous space.

The militant drumline of "The Birds (Part 1)" was enhanced by the flying static visual display on screen, and this mid-tempo burner laid down the foundation for a grand finale of expectedly epic proportions. It was about an hour into the concert, and he hadn't even played quite a few smashes! It was a good sign. It was another good sign to hear the understated Abel talk about "It's XO, all day every day... I'm trying to tell my fans, this is our year. From now on, EVERY year is the year of XO, I promise you that..." to huge screams and cheers from Toronto. Perfect segue into one of the biggest songs on earth in 2015: the best part of the entire "50 Shades of Grey" thing - Weeknd's "Earned It", which was even more soft suede svelte and sensual than the gorgeously ornate original, this night's live version burning with BDSM-bathed energy, and Weeknd hitting new notes in all kinds of kinky new ways like a submissive's spanking screams. Logical to do the slow grinder "Dark Times" next, I suppose. No Ed Sheeran. No guests at all, actually. And it didn't matter one bit. Consider The Weeknd a motherfucking modern day pop star, please and thank you very much.

"Angel" might be one of the songs that could be cut from the setlist, but with it being there, The Weeknd officially performed the ENTIRE "Beauty Behind the Madness" album (plus older hits) which is respectable, if not a little too much to take at once. Is he making up for lost time when he was elusive, obscure and barely had a picture or interview online? Kanyeshrug.

Grand flourish. Visual cascade. Pronounced introduction. It's time for something special.
The Weeknd gives us "Dirty Diana". Yes!
But only one verse. No!
Now, performing "Dirty Diana" and blending it with "In The Night" technically makes sense on paper, but in concert, I found that taking away the singular emotionality of "Dirty Diana", truncating it, and merging it with the melody of a song with a totally different tempo created the most relatively disappointing moment of the concert for me. I wished he performed "Dirty Diana" by itself and let the axe scream along with Abel... and -then- bring in the ode to "Billie Jean" aka "In The Night", if you like. It was the only slight sequential faux pas, all things considered. And I'll only say once that's it's a tiny bit blasphemous to make these grandiose comparisons of The Weeknd to Michael Jackson, but I do respect Abel's desire's to make history like MJJ, because artists should aspire as high as they can dream. Still, I say this to say: Abel was REALLY DANCING on that stage, peoples. He's not taking Chris Brown's spot or nothing, but I'll be damned if he wasn't tapping heels, shuffling and kickstepping his hotfeet during this pinnacle moment!
The Weeknd's last big concert event, The King of the Fall show at Molson Amphitheater, was an exercise in visual and audio minimalism, with a perplexing percentage of the performance looking and sounding the same color, vibe and tempo. "Kissland" having the same essence as the "House of Balloons" stuff just wasn't complete. That's certainly not the case anymore. It's a celebration!

Finally, here it is: the Song of the Summer. "I Can't Feel My Face" hits like a rail of coke to the nostril, and everyone is dancing and singing and grooving and moving. Good times! Then "Prisoner", to keep people guessing, and then "The Hills", to ride on home with that sexy Saturday night randy mood floating in the collective mind. It was working. A little too well, apparently! With numerous pillars of fire aflame on stage, Abel was doing his track, when a dude jumped on stage and started dancing along, and shook The Weeknd's hand. Another woman then got on stage too, and started dancing. Next thing you know, some HUGE dude in a XO jacket comes sprinting across the stage and ~tackles~ the dude who shook Abel's hand. They both got taken off stage, but that guy got thrown off with the quickness. Daaaamn, homie! The fuck happened to you?

Anyways, it was all good for The Weeknd, who was basking in the glory of obliterating the Air Canada Center for the first night of his North America Beauty Behind the Madness Tour in his hometown, and it seemed like he couldn't have done any better whatsoever. Abel Tesfaye has improved vastly as an entertainer and vocalist, and his soundscape diversity, as well as his refreshingly personal and peculiar personality, has matured into a formidable force in modern art. After giving an encore, The Weeknd thanked Toronto, blew a kiss and took a bow.

Let the madness begin.

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