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Review: The Weeknd brings rock star energy to Palace

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Is this the biggest party in Michigan right now?” the Weeknd asked a few songs into his sold-out performance at the Palace of Auburn Hills Wednesday night.

Of course it was, but he sold himself short. The show was not just the biggest party in Michigan on Wednesday, it was the biggest party we’ve seen all year, a 90-minute hit parade headed up by the 27-year-old Toronto-bred R&B singer and one of contemporary pop music’s reigning kings.

It was the second Palace visit for the Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, following a Nov. 2015 date at the venue. That show was bolstered by all sorts of next-level production trickery, including pyro bursts and jaw-dropping LED displays. This one had just one piece of production, but it was a massive one: A hovering monolith that hung above the stage and shape-shifted throughout the evening, like an alien ship ready to beam him up and blast off into the night sky at any given point.

That 40-foot mothership was positioned at a 45-degree angle over the long catwalk in the center of the arena as the Weeknd hit the stage and opened with “Starboy,” the thundering, bass-heavy Daft Punk-produced title track from his third studio album. That set the tone for the celebration that followed: big beats, shout-along moments and a powerful if understated force at the center of it all.

That would be the Weeknd himself, who glided gracefully up and down the performance space, spending the majority of his time on the long catwalk that jutted out from the stage. He was a consummate host, thanking the crowd for its support, nimbly moving the party along from one smash to the next, and doing so with ease, cool, raw energy and charisma. There’s no use dancing around it: The Weeknd is a total rock star.

While his music is often dark and gloomy, focusing on druggy hook-ups and distrustful relationships, the show was pure fun and had no problems filling the arena space. It’s big music made for large spaces, and he’s adapted well from his early mixtape days to the major label sphere, and hasn’t traded his integrity to get there.

Canadian singer and songwriter, The Weeknd on tour performing at the Palace of Auburn Hill, Mi, May, 24,2017.

Backed by a three-piece band, he punctuated big moments by jumping in place and motioned to the crowd to fill in the gaps, which it mostly already was. Meanwhile the spaceship-like structure over the crowd kept bathing the crowd in washes of orange and red and blue, shifting to fit the mood for each song.

The Weeknd had another big trick up his sleeve: he had his openers hold on to their biggest hits and come out and perform them during his set. So Rae Sremmurd popped out late in the night to do “Black Beatles,” and 6lack came out for “PRBLMS.” It was a festival mentality in an arena setting, and it seems like it could be a paradigm shifter in the way opening acts are used going forward.

Most of the two dozen songs in the set list were centered on the “Starboy” and “Beauty Behind the Madness” albums, and he reached back to his “House of Balloons” mixtape for a spin through “Wicked Games.”

Canadian singer and songwriter, The Weeknd on tour performing at the Palace of Auburn Hill, Mi, May, 24,2017.

Near the close of the night, “Starboy’s” “Secrets,” which borrows from the Romantics’ “Talking in Your Sleep,” segued nicely into “I Can’t Feel My Face.” “I Feel It Coming” closed out the set, as the Weeknd swung his microphone like a baseball bat, miming a ball player hitting one out of the park. The gesture was appropriate.

“The Hills” closed the show and the Weeknd triumphantly rode off into the night, sure to bring the biggest party in town to wherever he’s off to next.