The Weeknd, O2 Arena, Tuesday, March 7
Abel Tesfaye emerged from a hole at one end of The O2’s stage a few weeks after his friend and collaborator Drake brought a giant glowing globe to the same arena for his Boy Meets World tour.
There was speculation as to whether the Canadian artists would pair up here, and they would, but not tonight. The Weeknd saved his surprise ace for the second of two nights here.
Instead, we make do with just Tesfaye, his red denim jacket and his microphone. As it turns out, that’s more than enough to keep a sold out crowd happy for the vast bulk of a near two-hour set. It’s frontloaded with cuts from last year’s album, Starboy, the most accessible example yet of the The Weeknd’s increasingly sleek R&B sound.
All I Know, Party Monster, Reminder and Six Feet Under form a formidable opening, but for most here, the highlight is Starboy, Tesfaye’s 2016 Daft Punk collaboration that also served as the lead track for the album of the same name. Starboy has sold 950,705 copies to date, and is precisely the kind of immensely popular pop song that can unify a massive room full of people, forcing everyone to sing the chorus and raising a wiggle from the disinterested, previously seated man to our left. Tonight, this song feels precision engineered to make the space feel smaller, the crowd bathed in red lights as Tesfaye’s three-piece band deliver its blend of funk and disco.
It arrives before the halfway mark, a good move given it feels like many her are waiting desperately for it. Can’t Feel My Face – The Weeknd’s other Daft Punk-powered chart banger (1,214,199 sales to date) – follows a few songs later, it’s emphatic, but it comes a clear second to Starboy.
With those two most obvious hits out of the way, Tesfaye is able to treat fans (and, you get the feeling, himself) to a run through some of the grainier, sleazier numbers from the earliest reaches of his catalogue. And so we get Wicked Games, High For This, Crew Love and Tell Your Friends, all carried by Tesfaye’s flawless vocal and augmented by the robotic shifting of the flashing lighting rig above his head as he bounds up and down the gangway, sweat stains by now visible on that red denim.
After a manic, somewhat incongruous False Alarm, it comes to a grinding close House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls and The Hills. The finale isn’t one of The Weeknd’s cleaner, more obvious hits (despite its 1,162,379 sales), but it’s a resounding way to close a slick, emphatic set, Drake or no Drake.