At least he wasn’t Rogered this time around.
After being denied the opportunity to kick off his “After Hours til Dawn” world tour here in July due to a nationwide communications shortage from the communications giant, The Weeknd — one of music’s hottest commodities — more than made up for it with a 100- minute bombardment of the senses that signaled the triumphant return of Toronto’s prodigal son.
And one of the more remarkable aspects of the show is that the 45,000 faithful that filled the SkyDome — er, Rogers Center — weren’t there to see dark R&B phenom The Weeknd, but to welcome home one of their own, as they intermittently broke into chants of “Ab-el! Ab-el! Ab-el!” — in reference to the headliner’s birth first name, Abel Tesfaye — throughout the show.
As he proved with his Super Bowl Halftime Show in 2021, Tesfaye knows how to execute and scale big events, and Thursday’s concert — the first of two — fit the bill. Tesfaye made good use of the length of the stadium, which was halved by a walkway with a gigantic replica of the moon suspended at one end and a landscape of buildings, including a mini-replica of the CN Tower.
The opening strains of the “After Hours” track “Alone Again” triggered a procession of 22 veiled women draped in red dresses (jilted lovers, perhaps?) as Tesfaye donned a full face mask that didn’t come off until well into “Dawn FM’s” “Gasoline.
It should be mentioned that aside from currently being one of the hardest working men in showbusiness — he has been filming HBO’s “The Idol” between gigs, writing the score for the project on the road with his first opening act Mike Dean and has partnered with Universal for a Halloween Horror Nights Attraction at Walt Disney Worlds in Orlando and Hollywood.
He is also pop’s Atlas: Tesfaye carried the weight of the world on his shoulders throughout the entire 29-song extravaganza.
If a band was present, the audience couldn’t see it, even though the arrangements were pelted with ominously thundering bass lines and downpours of dance beats as he melted “How Do I Make You Love Me” into “Can’t Feel My Face .” Although his voice was in fine form, displaying his enviable low-to-high tenor range, the cavernous acoustics of the closed roof stadium sometimes distorted the clarity of his singing, (thought the space did enhance a spectacular light show).
But that aural aspect of the performance was almost negligible, as the joyous crowd — every single one of them standing up with their cell phones pointed towards the stage or the walkway — belted hit after hit in leather-lunged unison with their local superstar, be it “I Feel It Coming,” waving the glowing wristbands they were given upon entrance to the show — or “Save Your Tears” or “Often.” Sometimes, Tesfaye stood back and led the crowd as they filled in the blanks, so enthralled they were with the library of music he has so far gifted them — as if everyone was working for The Weeknd.
After a seemingly marathon run of songs to kick off the show, Tesfaye took a breather at the end of “Starboy” to address the crowd.
“Look what you’ve motherf—in’ done, Toronto,” as he was drowned out by screams of adulation. “You’ve just reminded me why I do what I do. In 2011, I played the Mod Club and now I’m playing the SkyDome back-to-back. And I will continue to do this until the day I die.”
In terms of showmanship, he certainly provided an eyeful in concept and execution, as there was always plenty to look at: the changing hues of the giant moon; the veiled sisters split into groups of engaging, but restrained, choreography and a cityscape at times burning with violent furor reflected post-apocalyptic decay or the hopeful promise of a new sun-risen morning.
Overall, the show could have used a bit more emotional ballast, but that may be an opinion in the minority considering the volume of satisfaction expressed by The Weeknd’s adoring crowd.
After all, he’s their Starboy, ya know?
They will have his back for as long as he wishes.
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