Over the Weeknd, the Starboy Splashed Down in Space City
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Over the Weeknd, the Starboy Splashed Down in Space City

The Weeknd
Toyota Center
May 6, 2017

If you happened to be scrolling through Instagram on Saturday night, no doubt you’re aware that the Weeknd was in town. The Canadian hitmaker’s Starboy Tour was a hot ticket, thanks to a brilliant parade of platinum singles and celebrity arm candy that have helped catapult him onto the music-biz A-list over the past couple of years. The singer is fairly radiating stardom at the moment, and young cliques and couples turned out in numbers to bask in his light, broadcasting their every move on social media. Sixteen blocks away, Clé must have been near-empty.

Not everyone was in rompers and heels, naturally. But the young ladies in the crowd took full ownership of the brimming arena from the jump. The screaming was loud for openers Nav and Belly, a couple of poppy Canadian hip-hoppers signed to the Weeknd’s XO imprint and trafficking in Drake-y, bass-heavy club music. The noise seemed to reach a crescendo when Belly brought out Paul Wall for a verse of “Still Tippin'.” But it wasn’t until the Starboy himself beamed down from a glowing, LED Star Destroyer that the screams became physically painful.

Over the Weeknd, the Starboy Splashed Down in Space City
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

There was no dallying. The first song of the night was “Starboy,” the chart-topping Daft Punk collab that’s the namesake of the Weeknd’s latest album and tour. It was a dazzling opener that saw the singer appear in a puff of smoke, seemingly trapped in place by a tractor beam of lasers. Upper and lower bowls alike lit up with thousands of camera flashes, and the Weeknd’s soft, clear tenor sparkled, too.

There would be more big hits to come. No one at Toyota Center was concerned in the least that he or she’d go home without hearing “I Can’t Feel My Face,” the Max Martin-penned smash that managed to out-Bruno Mr. Mars in 2015. That sort of flashy dance-pop isn’t really the Weeknd’s stock and trade, however. Left to his own devices, he’s an out-and-out balladeer.

“Houston, can I get sexy for you tonight?” he asked before belting out “Tell Your Friends” and “True Colors.” His voice sounded great on both, showcasing his rich, Jacko-esque whisper. It was R&B, to be sure, but there was no gospel in it; only a hard backbeat. MJ’s “Dirty Diana” is the Weeknd’s gospel, and with no choreography, all of the focus was on the singer’s powerfully lilting croon.

Over the Weeknd, the Starboy Splashed Down in Space City
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

It was fine, if not exactly sexy. There’s a certain synthetic numbness to the Weeknd’s style that doesn’t lend itself well to horniness, and with all the selfies mostly over with by that point, the energy in the arena began to flag a bit. It was restored by a welcome tempo shift. The excellent pop setpiece “In the Night” brought the Weeknd’s Jackson obsession to its peak, followed by the eminently danceable “Rockin’.” The singer showed off some fleeting footwork at last on that one, and it was good enough that we all wished for more.

Then: boom. “I Can’t Feel My Face.” It was a near-perfect highlight that found the singer wearing his superstardom with ease, and you could almost see a static charge crackle through all of the beautifully sprayed ‘dos in the building. It was the charge that the crowd had paid for, and the screams when the song was through can only be described as NKOTB-like. If you’ve never winced in pain from crowd noise before, know that it’s a strange sensation. It’s rare, and it takes real heat to achieve.

Over the Weeknd, the Starboy Splashed Down in Space City
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Chilled-out smash hits “I Feel it Coming” and “The Hills” wrapped everything up with style. On record, the Weeknd’s voice sounds heavily medicated as often as not, but alone out on his long dagger of a runway, the singer’s voice was clear and longing. It was nice to have it confirmed that there was real talent beneath the electronic studio haze.

By bookending the “sexy” (i.e., dull) portion of his show with half a dozen hits, the Weeknd had no trouble sending his people home (or, more likely, to the club) happy on Saturday, and if he hits the charts any harder, one night might not cut it at Toyota Center next time. Hell, with the continued backing of Billboard veterans Martin and Daft Punk, the Starboy could make a strong push for his very own constellation next time out.

Over the Weeknd, the Starboy Splashed Down in Space City
Photo by Violeta Alvarez

Personal Bias: Keep the bottle service, thanks.

The Crowd: Dressed to inspire bitter jealousy.

Overheard In the Crowd: The swiping of 20,000 touchscreens.

Random Notebook Dump: Pleased to see that gigantic, white hi-tops are apparently a thing again.

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