R&B singer Abel Tesfaye is often thought of less as a real person and more as a backdrop for sex. His voice, which is seductive enough to make your toes curl, is the centerpiece of a sound that epitomizes babymaking music. But Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd, arrived in the flesh last Monday at the House of Blues to assert his prowess not only as a singer but also as a live performer. He succeeded, showing off his enormous talent to a packed under-30 crowd that lapped up his sensuality with an appetite atypical for a Monday night.
Tesfaye’s vocal variety and range were beyond possible preconception. Because so much of his music is focused on melodies rather than lyrics, he was able to make significant alterations from the tracks on his albums simply by adding extra trills here and there. His voice was unbelievably high and clear for a male voice, and he also managed to avoid the breathy falsetto trend made popular by indie acts like Bon Iver. Even his ad-libbed improvisations like “Bo-o-osto-on,” came out as effortlessly as exhaling, the sweet vowels dripping with sensuality.
Somehow, he got the whole audience to sing along with his every wordless moan, cry, and cringe-inducing lyric. From the first note of his hit, “High For This,” the audience went wild. The penetrating patterns of his vocal riffs created a visceral experience for the crowd, causing everyone in the eclectic audience to sing and dance along to every soulful proclamation in each verse. Tesfaye himself was completely immersed in his music. Closing his eyes and singing into the microphone with conviction, he seemed to pour his soul into each word.
His songs, as many a song in his genre tend to be, are misogynistic in nature, as was the presentation of his music. Projector screens showed clips of different model-esque girls often wearing nothing but lingerie or revealing only a gap-toothed smile framed by cherry-red lips.
The artificial glamour of the projected vignettes and the images of troubled girls with mascara running down their faces often distracted from the movements onstage. His two female backup singers also did little to assert their presence, tilting their heads from side to side now and then as though they, too, were hypnotized by his performance. However, the concert experience was defined more by his voice than the vulgarity. Sure, he sang about “getting naughty” and “sex in a handbag,” but that didn’t matter in the moment. His voice was just too damn good.
Perhaps knowing how far his voice would take him, Tesfaye was not much of a showman. While many other hip-hop performers use their concerts as a chance to show off their flashy taste in fashion, Tesfaye wore a black puffy jacket and jeans. He rarely made eye contact with members of the audience, and he broke from his trance only to dance and jump around during “Crew Love.” He rarely used his regular speaking voice, if at all, treating the show more like an extended R&B opera. The continuity was interrupted only by a brief space before the encore, which, given the crowd’s response, was practically a guarantee.
As Tesfaye ended the concert majestically, I wondered how many couples were going to have a different kind of encore after the mood he set (indeed, I began to notice people leaving in pairs during the concert). I probably should have been studying for my upcoming midterm instead of going to a Monday night concert, but witnessing such a talented artist completely justified my irresponsible decision. He could have sung “Happy Birthday” and had the crowd weeping for joy.
—Staff writer Anneli Tostar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.