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The Weeknd: The show has everything but is strangely lacking in heart and soul

Though he eventually removed his robot mask, we still didn’t get a sense of who Abel Tesfaye really is

The Weeknd

Marlay Park, Dublin

He’s officially the world’s biggest pop star right now, with Guinness World Records rating his popularity ahead of Miley Cyrus, Ariana Grande, Ed Sheeran and even the mighty Taylor Swift. As of March, he had the most monthly listeners on Spotify, and he has the most-streamed song in Spotify’s history (you know the one – it sounds a bit like A-Ha’s Take on Me).

So you’d expect Abel Tesfaye, aka The Weeknd, to put on a bit of a show, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint on the pyrotechnic front. Performing in a metallic mask in tribute to the late DJ MF Doom, on an elaborate backdrop of a ruined, apocalyptic cityscape (complete with CN Tower, the iconic building from Tesfaye’s hometown of Toronto), The Weeknd sets out to display the talent and showmanship – and impressive string of hits – that has fuelled his unstoppable rise over the past decade.

With so many burnt-out buildings crowding the stage, you wonder where the performer will fit, but the musicians are strategically positioned among the metallic ruins, and Tesfaye himself spends much of the gig creeping up and down a long catwalk cutting through the middle of the venue, stalked by a troop of white-clad dancers who look like desert priestesses from the novel Dune. In the middle of the catwalk is a giant revolving female robot statue which lights up throughout the show and may or may not be a figure of worship for the Dune dancers. Finally, there’s a giant inflatable moon, completing the mixed-up stage concept.

The tour is titled the After Hours til Dawn tour in reference to his two most recent albums, After Hours and Dawn FM, and the stage concept is meant to be a theatrical representation of The Weeknd’s musical journey through these two hugely successful releases. Whatever, it all looks suitably awe-inspiring, and when the flames, lasers and smoke kick in, it gives plenty of bang for the young bucks and buckettes.


Tesfaye gets the party started with a biggie: Take My Breath, and keeps the crowd pumped up with Sacrifice and How Do I Make You Love Me? The music leans heavily on the hard-core dance side, but every now and then a heavy metal guitar or a sax solo will penetrate the dense beats. Tesfaye’s falsetto rings over the deep rumbling bass, although it drops a bit in the mix during the chorus as the crowd take over the vocals. Tesfaye feels no need to stretch out the tunes: one hit seques into another like a mixtape of bangers – Can’t Feel My Face, The Hills, Starboy, Our of Time, I Feel It Coming – and just when you think he must have run out of hits by now, he pulls out a few more gems from the stockpile.

He also delivers some of his best-know collabs, including songs with Kanye West (Hurricane), Drake (Crew Love), Future (Low Life) and Ariana Grande (Die For You), along with some deep cuts for the true Weeknd warriors, including House of Balloons and Reminder.

Halfway through the set, Tesfaye takes off the mask, to loud cheers, but the priestesses keep their veils firmly in place as the show draws inexorably towards its finale, propelled by Save Your Tears and that streaming juggernaut, Blinding Lights. But he’s not finished yet, and as dusk sets in and the light show becomes more intense, Tesfaye continues with Tears in the Rain and Creepin’ before closing the show with a double whammy of In Your Eyes and Moth to a Flame.

Over a two-hour set that had everything including the kitchen sink, one thing missing was the emotional connection that lifts a gig above the flames and smoke and into the realm of collective magic. Though he eventually removed his robot mask, we still didn’t get a sense of who Abel Tesfaye really is. Tesfaye has the voice, the moves and the showmanship, right down to his agile, expressive hands, but the show, for all its techie edge and dystopian visuals, is strangely lacking in heart and soul – if he can find that last piece of the jigsaw and put it into place then he will truly be a modern pop master.

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney

Kevin Courtney is an Irish Times journalist