TONIGHT’S SHOW CONTAINS MATURE CONTENT.
Fox Theatre spelled that out on papers positioned around the venue entrance. The signs made sense given Abel Tesfaye’s provocative, sinister brand of R&B he mysteriously unveiled to the world in 2010. They referred to the uncensored porn flickering across the stage screens during one particular song but…
a. I address that later.
b. Acknowledging that up front would ruin the intro to my review.
Tesfaye has since crossed over from anonymous, Alt-R&B innovator to major-label signee. He’s carried a couple things over with him to his Republic debut Kiss Land and his live show though.
The first is his villainous outlook on love and sex – one of the biggest talking points surrounding his immaculate mixtape debut, House of Balloons. “You wanna be high for this,” he suggests on its opening track, but eventually the listener learns that if Tesfaye’s interested in you, he’ll get you high, he’ll get you drunk, he’ll get you whatever as long as he gets you in bed.
His new album, though focused on touring life, still contains these themes. A giant Kiss Land banner fell, Tesfaye stood behind a translucent veil and promised to tear down some morals on show opener “Adaptation.” He ran through a couple more new ones and further detailed his clinical approach to love with “Professional,” which he combined with House of Balloons cut “What You Need.” Surprisingly he performed nearly every song off that mixtape and Kiss Land, showcasing his two strongest releases and building an ideal setlist in my opinion.
The second thing he carried over to his album and live show is relatively challenging song structures and lengths. Recent albums like The 20/20 Experience are making lengthy songs less novel in the pop realm, but it was still risky for Tesfaye to fill a major label album with mostly 5+ minute songs and tour them. His absolutely adoring ATL audience was unfazed though, belting out 7 minutes of song and grooving to the instrumental breaks, expertly performed by a backing band whom Tesfaye insisted you know by name (Patrick, Ricky and LJ).
The new material benefited most from the live band, who filled the theater sonically from behind their shroud of color-changing smoke. An awesome visual set-up further bolstered these songs. Tesfaye and crew performed older songs against a sparse backdrop of soft light, but as soon as a recent song like set closer “Wanderlust” dropped, screens lit up with the Neo-Tokyo visuals used in promotion of the new album. Campy commercials in this style played between certain songs as well.
In some cases the boards lit up with graphic pornography. The visuals for Kiss Land’s title track sent some into giggling fits, encouraged some to take multiple pictures and turned others away. The images made an impact though, something The Weeknd’s aiming for now. He’s emerged from anonymity and transformed into a flashy, crowd-working performer. Encore “Wicked Games” came from the Balloons days, but as Tesfaye wandered the stage, encouraging crowd sing-a-longs he made it clear that he’s ready for the big time now.