Better Than: Watching porn alone at home.
The “WARNING: MATURE CONTENT” sign in Radio City Music Hall’s lobby last night was there for a reason. “Fucking sexy New York,” said Abel Tesfaye, a.k.a. the Weeknd, about halfway through the first of his two back-to-back all-ages shows at the venue. “If I could get on top of you, New York, you’d make me come three times. Maybe four times.” And that was the least of it: while he performed the title track of his new album, Kiss Land, the massive screens behind him–which until this point had flashed neon signs in Japanese, transforming the Art Deco theater into something like a red-light district Times Square–started projecting Asian lesbian porn. By way of explanation, he later added, “I wanted my Kiss Land tour to be a cinematic experience.”
The Weeknd’s headlining set at Radio City Music Hall, his biggest show to date, was an experience indeed. From the moment Tesfaye first appeared onstage in an translucent Oz-like curtain until the end of set closer “Wicked Games,” when he asked everyone to put their lighters up, he captivated nearly 6,000 screaming followers who knew all the words to every song off Kiss Land and the 2011 mixtapes (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) that catapulted Tesfaye to fame in the first place. “You guys got me here,” he said. “Thank you for getting me to No. 1!” (Technically, Kiss Land debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard charts, but only by 3,000 units and who in the audience was counting anyway?) Earned or not quite, the mood was decidedly celebratory.
The night began with Banks, a singer/songwriter from Los Angeles that’s essentially the female version of the Weeknd. Her voice is a fluid thing, slipping between Adele’s smoky croon and a raw mid-range that’s not unlike Rihanna at her most emotionally vulnerable. Stalking and bobbing across the stage in a long black dress, Banks couldn’t help but let the mysterious facade drop a couple of times. During “This Is What It Feels Like,” an immersive track off her recently-released debut EP, London, her shout-outs were distracting; when she said, “I really can’t believe I’m playing Radio City Music Hall right now!,” it was charming. Not until her minimalist cover of Lauryn Hill’s “The Ex Factor” did she really let it rip, though, belting out the chorus in a way that suggested she was holding something back during her own songs. Still, Banks is undeniably a talent, and touring with the Weeknd should give her the exposure she deserves.
The original narcotized lothario himself, on the other hand, needs some new material. First, it must be said that with each tour, the Weeknd puts on an even more spectacular show with increasingly complex lighting, a tight backing band, and his own vocal acrobatics. His performance literally lit up the room, especially with songs like House of Balloons staples “The Morning,” with its subterranean guitars and trap beats, and the Beach House-sampling, depressing-as-shit “Loft Music.” At times, though, it was hard to tell amidst the screaming and variations on thundering, sinuous bass lines which was a new song and what wasn’t. Aside from the inexplicable Asian fetish– which included a few interludes of commercials for what seemed to be a beverage, a type of candy, and (of course) condoms–Tesfaye’s schtick, however popular, hasn’t progressed much further than “these same four walls” (“Kiss Land”) in which he wrote his first records.
He still sings about girls and drugs and that sort of lifestyle, except now he drinks White Russians instead of Alize for breakfast. In a live setting especially, when the nuances are easily lost, it blurs together even more. And maybe that’s the idea: “Is everyone out there fucked up?” he asked at one point, met with an ear-popping roar. “Good,” he said. “That makes me feel better about myself.”
Overheard: “You’re getting kicked out, bitch!” – Girl next to me as another girl, who had draped her arm over the usher in an attempt to get closer to the stage, was being escorted out.
The Weeknd Setlist
Love in the Sky
You Belong to the World
What You Need/Professional
House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls
High for This
The Party & the Afterparty
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 8, 2013