The Weeknd is an understated and stylish, but underwhelming Friday headliner at Las Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful

Abel Tesfaye closed out the first day of the downtown Vegas festival

The phrase Friday night in Las Vegas is one that evokes images of debauchery and carnage, drinks flying everywhere, bodies reinforcing the need for the city’s famous slogan. Take it to a festival and things should be even more brilliantly chaotic than at the bottle service nightclubs that line the Strip.

Tonight (September 21), The Weeknd has been given the task of providing the soundtrack for Friday night shenanigans at Vegas’ Life Is Beautiful festival. It’s party time but Abel Tesfaye is more interested in creating something slick and stylish than something with 10 drops a minute that’ll have fans crowdsurfing away their inhibitions. He’s brought a whole steeped rack of lights that create a dazzling backdrop and some pyrotechnics here and there, but that’s as much as he’s giving us – no gimmicks or flashy extravagances on display.

If his set looks good, then it sounds even better, he and his band delivering versions of songs from across his discography that glimmer with the same metallic, glossy sheen as they do on record. ‘Starboy’ is an early treat, bass thrumming through sci-fi synths, while ‘House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls’ is a smooth reminder of The Weeknd’s beginnings and a brief burst of ‘Crew Love’, with its staccato beats that sound like glass shattering, is a tantalising beauty.

There’s one problem – it’s a little too understated. The massive crowd obeys his every command to throw their hands up and dance “even crazier”, but things never really lift off into the greatness that’s lingering somewhere a few levels higher. Tesfaye has created such a recognisable sound for himself – stark, cold R&B in which he’s either horny, high, sad or horny, high and sad all at once – that sometimes things become a little one-note.

Some songs do break up the set from time to time. After a stripped back opening verse, ‘Can’t Feel My Face’ explodes into the strutting banger that made it a radio fixture for months. ‘Often’ throbs as Tesfaye boasts about his sexual prowess and ‘Acquainted’ is a glittering and lusty cut. He saves the best for last, though, with a flaming version of ‘The Hills’ that opens with eardrum-shaking noise and grows into something that makes you feel the low, dirty music in your whole body. The star uses it as an opportunity to show off his stunning voice too, elongating his words and moving them through octaves as he goes. It’s an impressive end, but it’s a shame there aren’t more moments like it.

The Weeknd played:

‘Pray For Me’
‘Starboy’
‘Party Monster’
‘Reminder’
‘Six Feet Under’
‘Low Life’
‘Might Not’
‘Sidewalks’
‘Crew Love’
‘House Of Balloons/Glass Table Girls’
‘Secrets’
‘Can’t Feel My Face’
‘I Feel It Coming’
‘The Morning’
‘Wicked Games’
‘Earned It’
‘Or Nah’
‘Often’
‘Acquainted’
‘Wasted Times’
‘Call Out My Name’
‘The Hills’