The Weeknd seems like an isolated guy. From his low-key demeanor to the hazy R&B he creates, the Toronto singer comes off as a person who relishes time alone. Or with one lady — okay, maybe a few — to provide him with some more material to write about.
Maybe that’s why he started Sunday night’s Verizon Center show on a platform, perched behind a large protective screen with flickering lights. As the show got underway, the Weeknd slowly ascended to the top of the screen, getting an aerial view of the massive D.C. crowd, which sang almost every word from his extensive catalogue. That’s quite the feat for a man whose career launched under a cloud of mystery just five years ago.
Born Abel Tesfaye, the vocalist anonymously uploaded his music to YouTube in 2010. The next year, he released three mix tapes — “House of Balloons,” “Thursday” and “Echoes of Silence” — and got an enthusiastic co-sign from fellow Toronto native Drake, who pushed his music to a bigger audience. This year, the Weeknd’s song “Earned It” landed on the “Fifty Shades of Grey” soundtrack. His latest album, “Beauty Behind the Madness,” was powered by the lead single “Can’t Feel My Face,” a romping dance tune with obvious Michael Jackson influences.
The MJ nods were evident during Sunday’s show. It was in the way he kicked his legs and jolted the mic stand in sharp movements, as if to summon the King of Pop for brief moments.
The Weeknd is an understated showman who doesn’t demand the spotlight as he calmly unpacks maximized versions of his sultry pop/soul hybrid.
At Verizon Center, songs such as “Tell Your Friends” and “The Morning” felt especially stunning with pyrotechnics and bright rays on the stage around him. As the show progressed, the singer darted in and out of his protective cocoon, teasing the audience with recessive and inclusive glimpses that kept the gig lighthearted, despite his music’s dark tenor.
The Weeknd reached a cathartic moment near the show’s end on “The Hills,” a bass-heavy slow burner that speaks to infidelity. Here, with a stage full of rising flames and sporadic blazes, the singer stomped around his environment, surveying it with a watchful eye and becoming one with the conflict. It’s a song of brutal honesty and, at least for a moment, it found the Weeknd coming out of his sonic shell to deliver something more pronounced. It was a great move for a singer whose talent is no longer shrouded in obscurity.
Moore is a freelance writer.