Review: The Weeknd serenades Tampa's Amalie Arena with dark, debauched love
Clutching his mic stand and snapping his feet in ankle-breaking splits, the Weeknd made Tampa work it before they earned it.
He made 'em sing. He made 'em scream. He likely made a few of 'em tug their collars in discomfort as he promised to do unspeakable things to their bodies.
“I don't wanna hurt you, but you live for the pain,” he sang, straight into a sold-out sea of 16,492 hot 'n' bothered bodies at Amalie Arena on Thursday. “I’m not trying to say it, but it’s what you became.”
Such a tease, that Weeknd. But man, is it working: The Canadian crooner born Abel Tesfaye is the breakout singer of 2015, thanks to his smash singles Can’t Feel My Face, The Hills and Earned It, each one a testament to the fine divide between pleasure and pain that’s made him a singular figure in pop.
Early on, that divide was literal -- Tesfaye came to the stage shadowed by a chain-mesh curtain of LED lights, cracking his arms to the screaming guitars of Real Life and dancehall soul of Losers, both from his chart-topping album Beauty Behind the Madness. The stage rose until he was high above the audience in a loft all by his lonesome, a fitting metaphor for the psychosexual distance he so often projects in his lyrics.
“I only love it when you touch me, not feel me,” he sang on The Hills, his twisted horror show of a Hollywood love story, which thrust him amid eight exploding columns of flame.
Does this distance disengage him from his fans? Not in the slightest. The Weeknd may project an air of misanthropy bordering on sociopathy, but somehow, his elusiveness makes him even more tantalizing a figure. When his stage lights flash so bright you can’t help but avert your eyes, all you want to do is look back, even though you know it’s gonna hurt.
The darker and more devious his lyrics (for example, when he sang about getting, um, meteorological with his lady love on Often), the louder the crowd sang along. This was especially true of songs from his 2011 trilogy of star-making mixtapes. Sex and drugs on High For This? All night long. Sex and drugs on harrowing show closer Wicked Games? Voices to the rafters. Less-than-sober sex may be #problematic in the real world, but not, evidently, at a Weeknd show.
A white-hot touch like the Weeknd's, it must be said, generally has a shelf life. This was the second-to-last show of his Beauty Behind the Madness Tour, and there were signs his high, tense tenor might be tiring. By my estimation, he let the crowd handle about half the singing on Can’t Feel My Face, apparently saving his energy for a brief but nifty bit of soft-shoe at the end.
But even half the Weeknd’s voice is worth the price of admission, as his is a gift not easily replicated. His opener, fast-rising Texan Travis Scott, borrowed from the Weeknd playbook by half-singing, half-rapping hazy lyrics about coke, pills, sizzurp and sex, all filtered through a heavy mesh of Auto-Tune. Tesfaye brought Scott back out later in the night for their druggy duet Pray 4 Love and Scott’s own massive, paranoid hit Antidote – a song that currently sits just one spot behind Can’t Feel My Face on the Billboard Hot 100.
But while Scott’s voice was clouded in the uncanny valley of Auto-Tune, it was the Weeknd who seemed to open up as the night went on. Before serenading the crowd with the vampy Fifty Shades of Grey waltz Earned It, he surveyed the obsessed masses.
“It’s been a couple of years since I’ve been to Tampa Bay,” he said, referring to a 2013 concert at the Straz Center. “Is this city getting bigger? Because the venue’s getting bigger every f---ing time.”
Screams. So many screams.
“I skipped you on the last tour,” he continued. “But after today, I’m never gonna skip you ever, ever again.”
Look at this guy, so in tune with our darkest, most debauched desires. Is it any wonder everyone wants a piece?
-- Jay Cridlin