Nero wants his fiddle back.
Toronto pop superstar The Weeknd transformed his hometown dome into a city on fire and an apocalyptic dance club with the first concert of a two-night stand. Beats dropped relentlessly, senses were bombarded, hits came in waves and bass lines threatened the building’s structural integrity. Some 45,000 fans enjoyed a spectacle as if it were their last day on Earth, going down with a smile, a cellphone and a familiar melody on their minds.
The Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, was the ringleader at Rogers Centre, often performing on a stadium-spanning catwalk instead of a stage backdropped by a cityscape that at turns towered, glowed and burned. The sounds were brooding, ecstatic, icy, ominous and euphoric – the concert was an up-tempo onslaught for its first half at least.
This was an epic stadium presentation as God and Michael Jackson might have intended. Imagine a Super Bowl halftime show that went on for 100 minutes – 21st-century electronic R&B perfection.
The Weeknd entered wearing a clear face mask and a full-length black coat. A long procession of women shrouded head-to-toe in red lent a dystopic whimsy to the occasion. Their presence funerial, they moved just enough to fulfill their dancers-union requirements and not a twitch more.
The set leaned on super-charged versions of tracks from The Weeknd’s most recent blockbuster albums, 2020′s After Hours and this year’s conceptual Dawn FM. The first full number was the despondent, percolating Gasoline, a song that lets us know that even the party people get the blues.
And if you don’t believe that a Grammy-winning, streaming-champion king of pop has setbacks, one only needs to review the crazy, star-crossed journey The Weeknd’s After Hours til Dawn Tour took to finally make it to Toronto.
The original tour, planned for arenas in support of After Hours, was postponed twice because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Finally cancelled outright, it was replaced by a stadium tour scheduled to begin on July 8 at Rogers Centre. The drama came early and just didn’t stop.
In June, the planned opening act, rapper Doja Cat, dropped out because of tonsil surgery. She was replaced by Mike Dean and Canada’s Kaytranada.
Minutes before the tour was set to open, the Toronto concert was called off because of a widespread Rogers network failure. Unaware fans walking up to the stadium gates had no idea they weren’t getting into the building.
Six days later, the success of the tour-opening concert in Philadelphia was darkened by the news that a concertgoer had died after plunging from an escalator rail. The man suffered head trauma after falling about 12 metres at Lincoln Financial Field.
On Sept. 6, The Weeknd abruptly ended a sold-out concert at SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles early into the performance. Attempting to perform Can’t Feel My Face, The Weeknd couldn’t feel his voice. Unable to sing, he explained to the audience that he couldn’t continue: “I wanted you guys to know that I can’t give you what I want to give you. I apologize. I’m so sorry.”
His first show back was Thursday at Rogers Centre, where his voice, a trembling tenor tool built to express the charismatic despair of a world-weary (and maybe a little weird) lothario, was in fine form. Following a sprint of nearly a dozen show-opening bangers that ended with Starboy, he thanked the crowd for its legion support:
“You’ve just reminded me why I do what I do … I wanna do this for the rest of my life … they’re going to have to pull me out of this place …”
The performance was immaculate, with no note or emotion out of place. The assumption is that a live band backed the singer. Its members were hidden and not introduced at any point.
After the show-closing monster hit Blinding Lights, the singer walked slowly from sight, not saying a word as an ovation thundered upon him. Earlier, before performing Die For You, The Weeknd said he would do just that thing for the Toronto faithful. It sounded like the feelings were mutual.