Music's Man of the Year, The Weeknd, Kills It at Toyota Center
Photo by Ronald Jones
The Weeknd, Halsey, Travi$ Scott
December 13, 2015
“The Hills” is an incredible song, perhaps even the best song of 2015, but its status as “arena anthem” is kind of weird. It's easy to understand why songs like “Shake It Off” and “Uptown Funk” become popular; even if you don't like them, you don't have to stretch your brain to see what makes them catchy numbers.
But “The Hills” is something different. It's dark, it's nasty and, most important, it doesn't care that it's dark and nasty. It is unapologetic, which makes it fun to sing with a sold-out crowd. In a vacuum it's hard to believe it was the No. 1 song in the country for multiple weeks this year, but when you watch thousands of people sing it with all their heart, you get it.
It would be folly to suggest that 2015 belongs to anyone not named Adele, but if anyone else has a strong case for the title, it's Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, a.k.a. The Weeknd. He walked into 2015 without a No. 1 song to his name and ends the year with two, having dominated the charts in the second half of the year before Adele came along.
Needless to say, his return to Houston felt like an event, the Toyota Center buzzing more than at any show this year that didn’t involve an oddly named country icon. You might not have been literally able to cut the electricity in the air with a knife, but if Gorilla Monsoon had said it, you wouldn’t have corrected him.
Sunday night The Weeknd hit every note and had all the right moves. Most everything he did received some roar from the crowd, when they weren’t too busy screaming the lyrics back to him. It was a literal “he can do no wrong” situation for the singer.
Which is what made the fact that he got so much right that made the show really satisfying.
Light onstage banter for the most part, The Weeknd and company hit on more than 20 songs over the course of their hour-and-45-minute set. He hit pretty much everything you would want from Beauty Behind the Madness and mixed in some classics from the mixtape days for the day-zero fans, which sounded heavier and more alive than ever.
While the hits were the big draw as they always are, there was some real power behind some of the deeper album cuts, in particular a version of “Angel” that had more than a few people in the crowd with tears in their eyes. It was so good that I almost wish they had put in a longer break there after the song to really let the majesty of what he had just performed sink in more.
To make the night a little more special, he cut out a few of his own tracks from the set to let Travi$ Scott soak in some extra hometown hero love with “Antidote” and their collab “Pray 4 Love.” It was a pretty amazing moment, all told, as the crowd went ballistic for the pair.
The thing to keep in mind about The Weeknd is that while he got real, real good in 2015, he’s only going to get better. He’s going to get even more confident onstage. The productions will get bigger. He’ll add a few more hit singles to the setlist. You're going to get a great tour from him every two years for as long as he continues to keep singing. He is, if one were to guess, really only at the “Disturbia” point in his popularity.
That’s a very specific reference, but with good reason. While a lot of music critics have compared Abel to Kanye and Michael Jackson, understandably, those comparisons don’t really hold up. Kanye and Michael were great from the jump, and neither of them at this point in their careera would run from an album like Kiss Land because they didn’t have to. Which isn’t to say that he isn’t incredibly talented, it’s just that he’s a different type of talent. He doesn't have to be a once-in-a-generation talent, he just has to use his voice to make great songs. He’s very much a Rihanna-type, and that’s a good thing; none us are singing “Gold Digger” or “Thriller” from the heart, but we can understand in our hearts “Umbrella” and “The Hills.” And when it comes to art, sometimes that type of greatness is the most important of all.
So, How Were the Openers? I would love to know what kind of response Travi$ Scott gets in other cities, because Houston was predictably nuclear for the man. He capitalized on that energy, and also told a story about working for the Toyota Center for a little bit as a ball boy for the Rockets. Don’t stop dreaming, kids. Halsey may have seemed like a weird choice for this tour, but the powers that be are going to push her until she’s a star, and the confessional nature of her lyrics goes together with The Weeknd nicely. I do wish she had at least one more upbeatish song, however, just for the sake of diversity.
Personal Bias: The Weeknd and Halsey are likely both going to end up on my best album/songs of the year lists. That said, I’m the one guy in America who thinks Kiss Land is the superior Weeknd release.
The Crowd: So, so basic.
Overhead in the Crowd: “Whose responsibility is it: mine or his?” in relation to one of the sex acts mentioned in “Often."
Random Notebook Dump: Remember when going to see The Weeknd came with a warning about mature content?
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