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Friday Night: The Weeknd at Bayou Music Center

Note: Due to computer difficulties, the photos from Friday were lost. Also, After Friday night's show, The Weeknd canceled his scheduled performance Sunday at the Austin City Limits Music Festival, issuing this statement on his Web site: I'm really disappointed and embarrassed that I can't make it to ACL this evening due to doctor's orders... apparently i pushed my limits last night. I'm deeply sorry to all my fans that were expecting to see me."

The Weeknd Bayou Music Center October 12, 2012

The Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, is a semi-new R&B artist from Toronto, Canada. Until recently, the singer's image was mostly hidden, recognizable only by a crop of songs uploaded to YouTube in 2010, a self-released trilogy of albums in 2011 -- House of Balloons, Thursday and Echoes of Silence -- and a sweet yet very misleading Prince-like symbol: XO.

The "XO" that The Weeknd touts, sometimes latched onto the end of collaborator and fellow Canadian Drake's "OVO" (October's Very Own) logo, is not a Sweet Valley High reference to hugs (X) and kisses (O); it does, however, stand for Ecstasy and Oxycodone, two drugs that were or were not being used in abundance at the singer's show Friday at Bayou Music Center.

When you combine the 20-year-olds mashed together in Bayou Music Place Friday night, the hazy cloud hanging over their mass on the general admissions level of the venue and the strung-out lyrics of The Weeknd, it's all too easy to dismiss the singer's bubble jacket-wearing brand as stoner music, and his listeners as pothead acolytes to his hazy ministry of sex, drugs, and more sex and drugs.

But extract two from those three -- The Weeknd and the twentysomethings -- then pair them together, and what crystallizes is a reveal of these youngsters' missteps and mistakes, an uncertainty about how the rest of their lives will turn out and how, for some of them, that desperation becomes a perfect breeding environment for, well, sex and drugs.

Consequently, "High for This," "Wicked Games" and "Next," the three songs that prompted the strongest audience reaction Friday night, best emulate The Weeknd's message.

"Bring your love, baby. I can bring my shame/ Bring the drugs, baby. I could bring my shame/ I got my heart right here/ I got my scars right here," sang Weeknd, his voice drowned out by eager, empathetic concertgoers.

"Can you put your lighters up, please?" he asked before beginning "Wicked Games," and the ones responsible for that cloud of smoke made themselves known, to the delight of flashlight-wielding security guards and police officers.

The Weeknd is one of the few artists to seamlessly weave contradictions; eliciting both disgust as well as sympathy as a lovelorn lothario is no easy feat. Take his performance of "Love Through Her," for example.

"Going back in time when I feel her/ She touching me; it's too familiar/ The way she doing the things/ She does exactly the way you used to," he moaned.

 

He at times changed roles, allowing a lady love to cheat on a boyfriend through him, as in the case of his performance of "What You Need."

"Does he touch you here like this?/ Let me take the friction from your lips."

Riding the just-realized wave of enthusiasm buzzing about albums released a year ago, the infamously hidden singer is finally stepping out of the shadows, tiptoeing on the mainstream line. He only just recently began allowing press photographs to be taken at his shows; good news for us but according to some music purists who associate authenticity with anonymity, cause for dismay.

But not for his Houston fans. "I've never been here before. It's my first time," he announced, adding, "Houston! Make some fucking noise!"

Perhaps he could've tried making some, too. Based on Friday's performance, it is now apparent that the soft-throated singer's vocals, a mixture of The-Dream and Bad-era MJ, are best appreciated inside a pair of headphones.

His is a quiet voice, the perfect accompaniment to studio engineer-balanced minor synth chords and acoustic guitars, but being mild in timbre, the weight of his lyrics is not felt live. He made up for it - a little. After an anticlimactic "The Party and the Afterparty" opener, just him walking back and forth across the stage like a kid skipping rocks on his home from school, he eased into a groove, playing to both the audience and the band with an end-of-the-song clap along to "High for This," and a guitar solo during "The Zone."

One aspect that really stood out: Although The Weeknd is still relatively new, it looks like his management is already predicting mainstream success. The stage, lit up with LCD screens, recalled Mary J. Blige's larger-than-life summer concert in which digital showmanship nearly blinded music patrons.

While Blige's LCD displays were mostly feats of color, The Weeknd played and replayed images of sexy women - the same women portrayed in the videos on his YouTube channel. On the floor in front of the stage were endless balloons displaying his XO insignia -- a recall to House of Balloons, the album and song that started things.

If, as he progresses in his career, he strengthens his voice to match that of the lights, now, that'll be a show.

Personal Bias: Besides the strong smell of weed in the air, The Weeknd's concert was really enjoyable.

The Crowd: Twentysomethings, I said! Didn't you read what I wrote above?

Overhead In the Crowd: "Who do you work for?" asked a beefy, overzealous security guard to me after watching me dip into the pit to snap a shot of the singer.

Random Notebook Dump: Someone on Twitter made the interesting quip asking why The Weeknd, its name suggesting plurals, describes the solo artist, and Travis Porter, the rap group that took his place Saturday evening with fellow rapper Mac Miller, is a singular proper noun. Great point.


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