Before the long-established sound and sensibility of rhythm and blues was whisked away and reworked as “PBR&B” by contemporary artists, there was Abel Tesfaye — better known as his alias The Weeknd — holding down the fort.
Quipped with emo memoir-like lyrics of love, lust, and deceit remedied by Xanax and champagne showers, he was the first of his kind and turned out to be everything we didn’t know we needed: an ill-twisted, introverted Casanova who never shied away from life’s intense highs that come crashing down as rock bottom lows. Fast-forward a few years, he’d release a staggering trio of mixtapes, his sophomore album would debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 chart, and he’d even give Drake nearly half of his own album for what became the OVO leader’s most praised record, Take Care. So, you do the math. Dude is arguably one of the most slept on artists of this new generation when it comes to giving credit where credit is due. However, that’s now a thing of the past.
On Thursday (Nov. 19) night, the 25-year-old Canadian crooner flipped Brooklyn’s Barclays Center on its head with an encore of his “Madness Fall Tour”–the third and final New York City stop—as he transported a melting pot of an audience into his introverted world, exposing the hazy mystique that has surrounded him.
But before Tesfaye commanded the arena with his highly anticipated headlining performance, Houston rapper Travi$ Scott hit the stage promptly at 7:30 p.m., bringing his smaller-scale yet acclaimed ‘I survived the Rodeo’ shtick to the big stage. Despite a nearly empty arena, Scott kept his energy up and head held high, as fans turned up to hits from his recent Rodeo debut (“Antidote” and “3500“). Following Scott’s performance, things took a somber tone as R&B/pop singer Banks took over the stage. As XO-clad t-shirt concertgoers began to pour into Barclays, Banks kept the crowd idle with sexy ethereal tracks like “Goddess” and “Waiting Game,” and the love scorned “Drowning.”
An hour later, blunt electronic guitar strums echoed through the arena as it fell pitch black. Tesfaye kicked the show off with “Real Life,” the first track on Beauty Behind The Madness. He then progressed into “Losers,” “Acquainted,” and “Often.” For his loyal day one fans, he sprinkled in Trilogy‘s deeper cuts (“High For This,” “The Party & The After Party,” “House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls”) and gifted audiences an appetizer-sized taste of his 2013 major label debut, Kiss Land, with “Professional.”
While he served back-to-back throwbacks that resurrected OVOXO feels, he performed “The Crew” with grand pyrotechnics to further fuel the lituation. Tesfaye was noticeably confident as ever, like he not only belonged on the stage but deserved to be rocking a sold-out arena. His breathy falsetto was pitch perfect as he captivated audiences with his MJ-inspired dance moves, too. The once foggy and brooding Internet persona he portrayed that once had a tough time translating his in-studio vocals to a welcoming stage persona was no where to be found.
@abelxo wait to catch the show tonight #xo #xotilioverdose #theweeknd #abelxo #barklaycenter #bk I’m coming home A photo posted by Zoilo Castillo (@mrnighthfm) on
In all, “Madness” was a manicured tour that went off without a hitch – nearly victory lap-like, especially for Tesfaye. “A few days ago I did Madison Square Garden, but I knew I had to come back to Brooklyn for at least two more shows, ” he said showing gratitude to the borough. “You guys have been showing me love every year. The first time I ever did an arena was in Brooklyn last year, and I said to myself, ‘I’m never going to miss Brooklyn ever again.’ I’m coming every year, every fall tour.”
As his lengthy set came to a close, he turned things up another notch. Excitingly taking his newfound mass appeal and pop star accolades for a final joy ride, Tesfaye performed his chart-topping hits of 2015 (“Earned It,” “Can’t Feel My Face,” and “The Hills”) that has stamped his burgeoning career as one of epic, cross over proportions –all on his own terms.
“It’s more of a celebration for XO,” he humble-bragged. But it was apparent that it was a friendly reminder that in just four short years, he’s managed to cleverly have the world hooked on his enigmatic, new wave blend of R&B, pop and rock. So, in the words of Tesfaye, “XO til we overdose.”