Towards the end of his show last night Abel Tesfaye, the singer known as The Weeknd, launched into the title track from his new album Kiss Land. “This song sums up the last year of my life,” he said before singing passionately about getting high, lap dances, jetsetting, drinking Grand Marnier in Florida and “tryna fuck you in the morning.”
Turns out Tesfaye has had a pretty good year. Kiss Land is essentially about getting famous and leaving his native Toronto to tour the world; the young man (Tesfaye is 23) goes about having a really good time on the road. The music itself, however, sounds largely like much of The Weeknd's previous material, made famous via a series of well-received mixtapes and his work with fellow Torontan Drake.
Tesfaye does a lot of things right. His brand of R&B largely defies categorization, as it mixes in elements of electronic music, rock and funk, making it sort of equal opportunity listening for kids of the Instagram generation who have graduated from the kiddie lust of Justin Bieber.
Tesfaye's performance style is electric and sincere, rarely cheesy even though his lyrics (“I got her wetter than a Wet-Nap”) can be absurd. His voice sounds a lot like Michael Jackson's, though it's better about embodying, shall we say, adult passion.
Most all night there were high-pitched screams from the many woman in attendance. Ladies were dressed in their club-wear best, and the crowd was populated by couples, many of whom were intermittently making out throughout the show. Turns out we were all living in Kiss Land.
Opener Banks, playing her first show ever in her hometown of L.A., was an apt lead-in, as her noir synth sound is directly influenced by The Weeknd's. Her stage presence was slightly awkward, but her voice was even better than it sounds on her just out EP London. She captivated the crowd with a goose-bump raising cover of “Ex Factor” by Lauryn Hill, a woman Banks has cited as an influence as well.
See also: Who, Exactly, Is Banks?
The Weeknd came on shortly after between set music by local DJ Anna Lunoe, and was welcomed by much screaming. He seemed sincerely tickled by the reception, quoting his song “The Morning” by saying that “Cali was always the mission, and now I'm playing to back to back shows at the Greek.”
Tesfaye is a hell of a performer, having developed (and slimmed down) in a big way since his 2011 set at Coachella. While that performance found him planted firmly behind the mic, last night he was light on his feet, dashing around the stage and busting out perfectly executed (and scream inducing) dance moves. Whether it's a result of the success or the money or the women, the boy is a man now, and the man has confidence.
The sexual nature of the music was relentless, but there's a certain sophistication to the instrumentation that elevates lyrics that otherwise belong in porn. Backed by a drummer, guitarist, and a guy doing double duty on bass and keyboards, his sound often grew large. There were a few killer guitar solos, and the show closer “Wanderlust” was a full-on funk ass shaker. A lot of The Weeknd's music sounds the same, but it's still a good sound.
Oh, and there was actual porn. Kiss Land's Tokyo red light district visual aesthetic, illustrated throughout the show by gaudy neon signs with Japanese characters, was brought to climax when the multiple screens hanging over the stage showed a video of two (gorgeous) Asian women having sex.
It was graphic, and hypnotic. Many men just stared at the ground. The girl in the seat next to me gave her boyfriend a lapdance. It was a weird moment that was simultaneously alluring and disturbing, illustrating that Kiss Land is a darker place than its name might suggest.
But is it real? Is Tesfaye actually a lothario, partier and drug user as his music implies, or is all this, like most porn, just a slick fantasy made up to help the masses get off? It doesn't really matter. Tesfaye sells it all with conviction and a voice that floats between bass and falsetto like honey. This isn't pop-R&B. This isn't the damn 20/20 Experience. This is Kiss Land, and it's all available to you, if you can handle it.
The Weeknd plays The Greek Theatre again this evening.
Overheard in the Crowd: 'Bitches be screamin!”