Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Cancel Anytime
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
Just $1.99per week for the first 24weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

The Weeknd, a.k.a. Abel Tesfaye

The Weeknd At Mod Club in Toronto on Sunday

"For a first show? I've never seen anything like this," muttered one of the many gobsmacked concertgoers at the first-ever performance by enigmatic avant-R&B act the Weeknd, also known as 20-year-old Torontonian Abel Tesfaye. Of course, the dude saying this in the bottle-service section of the Mod Club works for Diddy's iconic rap label Bad Boy and was there alongside an apparent army of New York record label reps desperate to land this unsigned sensation, an even more unlikely scenario for a debut gig.

Despite the hype that threatened to overwhelm the Weeknd's coming-out party - announced just 10 days in advance, it sold out in 90 minutes, with scalpers getting up to $300 and hundreds arriving hours early - the Weeknd met and at times transcended the show's historic advance billing. (It also operated as a high-intensity rehearsal before The Weeknd play before thousands at Drake's annual OVO Festival at Toronto's Molson Amphitheatre on Sunday).

Story continues below advertisement

If there was any remaining doubt that the old music industry rules no longer applied, then Sunday's Weeknd show laid that to rest. After self-releasing the free online album House of Balloons, a well-timed tweet by Drake sent the Weeknd soaring into the pop-cultural stratosphere. He landed on the coveted Polaris Prize shortlist, a first for a free download, received raves from Pitchfork to Rolling Stone and his single High For This is sound-tracking HBO's ad campaign for Entourage.

Much like Drake, cheering him on from the VIP section, the Weeknd erupted from obscurity by eschewing club bangers for melancholy mood music and left-field samples like punk icons Siouxsie and the Banshees and indie heroes Beach House. Ground zero for their narcotic, nocturnal sound is Kanye West's auto-tuned epic 808s and Heartbreak, but Tesfaye surpasses his source material thanks to his dry-ice falsetto and disquietingly sexual lyricism.

To transition into the live arena, he assembled a band - including Drake's guitarist, who closed the set with an epic November Rain-style solo - to re-imagine the dark, electronic beatscapes of his production team, Doc McKinney and Illangelo, as a real-live rock show, albeit one still infused by Portishead-era trip-hop and post-millennial dubstep. But the real revelation was Tesfaye's vocals, which proved even stronger onstage as he threw some Idol-ready runs into his tales of late-night, broken-hearted, drug-addled hookups.

Tesfaye seemed a bit nervous - not surprising for an artist who initially kept his name a secret, and even now banned cameras from the show. Though finally front and centre, he wore a camouflage jacket and remained strikingly still as if to be as unobtrusive as possible. Still, he confidently opened with High for This, causing the lit-fuse crowd to go off. At times he seemed taken aback by the reception, standing there, mike in both hands, staring out as the crowd sang his words back to him. It was an emotional night, and that came through in his voice, whether weaving through slow jams like The Party and the After Party or (relatively) upbeat romps like House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls.

During Wicked Games, the show's epic peak, arms raising unironic lighters filled the air as his emotion-ravaged voice crooned "Bring your love baby/I can bring my shame/Bring the drugs baby/I can bring my pain" amidst a roiling rhythm and grinding guitar. The sing-alongs turned his abject loneliness into a communal catharsis. But the edge remained, be it the unrelenting dirtiness of Loft Music or the encore cut The Birds (Part 1) which used martial drums and strobe lights to amplify the implied threat: "Don't make me make you fall in love."

On new song Rolling Stone, Tesfaye sings "Baby I got you/Until you're used to my face/And my mystery fades" which could've been his career epitaph if he'd faltered here. Until now, the Weeknd has existed as almost a figment of our collective imaginations, his ascent fuelled by anonymity, his communications coming via Twitter and Tumblr, his music existing only as web-distributed ones and zeroes. He could've dissipated like a dotcom bubble. But by bringing his aching digi-laments out of the Internet's shadows and onto the stage, Tesfaye triumphantly proved that the Weeknd has no end in sight.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

UPDATED: Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies