Abel Tesfaye may have realised his ‘Starboy’ ambitions with an all-guns-blazing show at The O2, but a surprise appearance from his fellow Torontonian just about won the night
You know you’re in the presence of a star when, as soon as the house lights drop, you’re subjected to the piercing sound of 20,000 screams: “Abel, Abel, Abel!” The star – or rather Starboy – has landed.
The Weeknd – AKA R&B sensation Abel Tesfaye – has this week brought his ‘Starboy: Legend of the Fall’ world tour to the UK, with last night (March 8) seeing the second of two huge shows at The O2 in London. Now an international name who dominates the streaming, radio and music video markets, the 27-year-old’s sultry and often filthy songs about sex, sex, and, er, more sex have also landed him gigs at Victoria’s Secret fashion shows and spots on the Fifty Shades soundtrack, taking his own brand of aural aphrodisiac to new heights.
Tesfaye talks a big and often X-rated game in his lyrics (sample from ‘Reminder’: “When I travel ’round the globe, make a couple mil’ a show / And I come back to my city, I fuck every girl I know”), and that oozingly-confident artistic persona is certainly starting to translate onto the live stage. Wide-eyed fans gazed up adoringly at the Canadian icon, desperate for just a passing glimpse from the artist as he strode up and down his purpose-built runway. Looks may be fleeting, but what certainly rained down on the heaving, smartphone-clutching masses gathered in the standing section was a dazzling light display which was projected by a gigantic, star-shaped lighting rig that appeared to take on a responsive agency with each song.
Ramping up the frenzy with slow-burning R&B opener ‘All I Know’, The O2 descended into chaos as the neo-vampiric sound of ‘Party Monster’ then rang out, before the boastful ‘Reminder’ and its accompanying gun imagery on the giant screens completed a trio of tracks from Tesfaye’s most recent album, with that body of work dominating the 25-song setlist. Earlier cuts did shine, though – the NSFW effect of the practically-obscene ‘Often’ (where Tesfaye talks up his – to put it mildly – powers of precipitation) had us checking to see if we’d somehow been given a love bite, while the likes of ‘Wicket Games’ and ‘High For This’ from Tesfaye’s debut 2011 mixtape ‘House of Balloons’ rewarded the “day-one” fans in attendance.
The undisputed moment of the night, however, didn’t emerge from the sordid mouth or the swagger of Tesfaye. Rising up from the middle of the runway mid-set like a Stone Island-clad Messiah, the decibel level recorded earlier for Tesfaye’s entrance was smashed to smithereens by the reception reserved for Drake as he made his surprise entry to the stage for ‘Fake Love’. Seriously, the screaming.
While The Weeknd is an undoubted global superstar in his own right, his willingness to hand over the keys to The O2 to his fellow Torontonian even just for 10 minutes may have been unwise – especially when Drake decided to drop ‘Jumpman’. “I had to come fuck with my brother,” Drake explained of his surprise appearance, before launching into 2015 track ‘Energy’ as he positively bounced from one end of the runway to the other. But the rapper was reverential to his host: “I’ll never forget the first time I heard [The Weeknd] – it was in Toronto on a rainy night, and my boy played me ‘What You Need’. After that I heard ‘House of Balloons’, which is in my top five favourite albums of all time, that’s my favourite shit. And since then, my brother has gone on to become the biggest – OVOXO forever!”
And with Drake’s work done, it was left to the XO founder to wind down the evening – thankfully, he had the smooth groove of his Daft Punk collaboration ‘I Feel It Coming’ to help regain his footing. A three-song encore – the screeching brilliance of ‘False Alarm’, the falsetto-bending ‘Glass Table Girls’, and his gigantic 2015 single ‘The Hills’, which bathed the venue in searing red light – further satiated The O2’s thirst for more, ending an I-was-there kind of night on a definite high.
The Weeknd may have lived up to his own billing as a ‘Starboy’ with a slick headline show, but, as the hoards poured out into the unseasonably warm North Greenwich night, one name in particular was on everyone’s lips, texting fingers and Instagram timelines: “Yeah, he was great, but did you see Drake?!”
The Weeknd played:
All I Know
Six Feet Under
Low Life / Might Not
Ordinary Life / Stargirl Interlude
Nothing Without You
Secrets / Can’t Feel My Face
In the Night
High for This
Crew Love (Drake cover) + Fake Love + Jumpman + Energy (all Drake solo)
Tell Your Friends
Die for You
I Feel It Coming
Glass Table Girls