The riddle was wrapped in a winter coat, bundled against… bundled against what?
The mystery man Abel Tesfaye revealed himself this past weekend at Toronto’s Sound Academy, where four sold-out audiences took in the fellow who sells himself as the Weeknd and traffics in late-night R&B. Over the course of his well-received Friday set, he unwrapped himself, from his jacket and otherwise, showing himself as a young man with a disposition sunnier than the moody, wounded lothario his music would suggest.
His songs are not songs as such – more a series of slow-vamping moves of seduction in the shadows, from a vulnerable vocalist whose soulful vibrato is his supple calling card and mouth-watering come-on. “You just want me because I’m next,” the budding commercial sensation sang repeatedly on one particularly melancholic uprising. Absolutely no one in the crowd – all lulled into a false sense of melody and all in thrall with the sexy groove – would disagree. Anticipation is his game, and he plays it as wickedly as possible.
The Weeknd is a Toronto producer and singer approved by no less than the superstar rapper Drake. With the online seepage of three “mixtapes” in 2011 (House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence, all issued free of charge through his website), the Weeknd quickly built up a critical following without aid of publicity. A bidding war over his services commenced and was eventually won by Universal Republic Records, the major label which, on Nov. 13, releases Trilogy, a three-disc set including remastered versions of his previous releases, plus a trio of new tracks.
Half-shaven and with a confused afro, Tesfaye seemed rather buoyant on Friday at Sound Academy, where more than once he crowed about his “back-to-back-to-back-to-back sold-out shows.” It was no weird juxtaposition to him to follow his bubbly between-song exclamations with pitying lines such as in Wicked Games, including “bring your love, baby, I can bring my shame.”
Before The Morning, he suggested “I think you know this next one.” Like it was a hit, but which, in the traditional sense, it is not. The Weeknd has no Baby or Call Me Maybe; his appeal is in a package of unforced jams that do not burst out of pop-factory gates with hooks or puppy-dog appeal. “He’s what you want,” as he sang at one point, “I’m what you need.”
It’s heady passive-aggressive stuff. He told his audience on Friday that he was performing against doctor’s orders. He gave no specifics; it was enough to know that his appearance was selfless. What could be wrong with him? Is he okay?
Perhaps he had a cold or perhaps his pipes were affected, which would explain his showing up in a heavy jacket. Whatever. Got to keep things hot now, cooling down is not an option.