The Weeknd - House of Blues - 6/15/12
The Weeknd, a sea of cellphones
House of Blues
Friday, June 15
Let me get the technicalities out of the way: Abel Tesfaye sounded incredible on Friday night. The full band only enhanced The Weeknd's drippy-druggy tracks and brought a new dimension to his sound. Updated arrangements added a sonic weight to The Weeknd's futuristic R&B, and the bottom-heavy bass juxtaposed with Tesfaye's fluttery falsetto was luscious.
But there was something else distinctive happening at House of Blues. As the lights went down and the band started with "High For This," the crowd was silent, reverent. To love The Weeknd is to love their mystery, to embrace how it plays with the themes of their music and the age in which they are making it. In an era when existence is so digital, when critically acclaimed artists are formed on YouTube instead of studios, the communal experience of seeing Tesfaye onstage felt newly meaningful.
The stark orchestrations and atmospheric keyboard work made the guitars stand out, particularly on "The Knowing." The nearly a capella "Wicked Games" longed with more desperation then ever. I tried to pinpoint what makes Tesfaye such a compelling figure; he would have made a grand doo-wop singer, more Little Anthony or Frankie Valli than Michael Jackson.
After moving around on the floor at House of Blues, I finally settled into a corner by a bar. I noticed the walls were lined with compatriots in my age group; we had formed a strange circle of chaperones around the teenagers dancing and singing word-for-word in the center of the floor. We were clearly on their turf, so it was no surprise that as the concert ended, more phones were pulled out than I'd ever witnessed. Everyone wanted some proof the night actually happened.
As I watched the closing song through the lens of a teenager, she snapped a gorgeous picture of Tesfaye, bathed in bright light, and managed to catch the shadows of the players around him. Maybe I should have been more old-fashioned and asked her to put her phone down so I could see the show, but for a brief moment, it wasn't such a terrible way to see things.
Personal bias: The Weeknd's first release, House of Balloons, was easily one my most listened to albums in 2011.
Notebook dump: My notes during the performance of "The Morning" just say, "six-months pregnant/craaaayyyy."