The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, performs at The Fox Theatre in Detroit on Tuesday. (Adam Graham / Detroit News)
The Weeknd is a rock star for the 21st century. The R&B singer started his career in 2011 by self-releasing a trio of mixtapes on the Internet. He shunned the spotlight, refusing to do interviews and rarely allowing himself to be photographed. He barely even left his hometown of Toronto. These moves endeared him to his fans, who connected to him not because of his image, but through his music. By the time he finally made himself known, hitting the road for his first tour in 2012, he was treated like a major star by his dedicated fans.
The adoration continues on the Weeknd’s current outing, which hit Detroit’s Fox Theatre Tuesday night. The 90-minute outing was a fully realized affair, with expert lighting and production and a palpable mood on stage and around the songs. This may only be the Weeknd’s first big outing, but he certainly knows what he’s doing.
The Weeknd, aka 23-year-old Abel Tesfaye, handled the stage like a pro, commanding his three-piece band through a performance that was at times dark and dreary and at others celebratory. The Weeknd’s music isn’t “up,” per se, focusing on tales of lonely hook-ups and long, dazed nights. But the audience came to have a good time, and Tesfaye delivered one, even commanding a crowd-wide sing-along during the fan favorite “Crew Love.” And he was able to bring energy and excitement to songs that have an eerie restlessness to them; “Belong to the World,” with its built in machine-gun Portishead sample, was turned into a rager, with Tesfaye bouncing on stage through the banging production.
Tesfaye opened the show with “Adaptation,” performing behind a scrim, obscured from the crowd while a projection of his face was beamed onto the thin, paper-like material. Given his history, fans had a reason to think he’d stay behind it for the duration of the show, but it was lifted as he rolled into “Love in the Sky,” another song from his new album “Kiss Land.” From there, he was aided by an impressive array of flashing lights and images projected from various-sized video screens, many of which had a gaudy Asian theme which made his stage seem like a stroll through a sleazy Tokyo sex district at 4 a.m. Things got even racier during “Kiss Land,” as he performed in front of images of girl-on-girl porn. But he wasn't doing it as a turn-on; in Tesfaye’s world, sex is filled with regret, weirdness and sadness. Trey Songz he’s not.
His connection with the crowd is genuine, however, and he gives that love back to his fans. He has a real knack for performing that makes it hard to believe that only a few years ago he was couped up in his bedroom in Toronto. His story almost seems too good to be true, and if the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that things of this nature are rarely what they seem. But the Weeknd may be the exception. He’s not only a born performer, but a true star.