PHILADELPHIA – If The Weeknd’s “Dawn FM” album is the equivalent of a dance party in purgatory, his live show is nothing less than a rave before the apocalypse.
The emotionally intense singer-songwriter finally achieved liftoff with his After Hours Til Dawn stadium tour on Thursday at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field. The launch was not only a victim of COVID-19 postponements over the past two years, but also saw its initial kickoff date delayed last weekend in the performer’s Toronto hometown when a nationwide internet outage stymied venue operations.
That pent-up eagerness to perform emerged the moment The Weeknd, sporting a plastic face mask, rose from one of the burned-out building models erected as a part of a skyline on the main stage for “Alone Again,” from his massive 2020 album, “After Hours.”
From there, it was a blitz of chaotic lighting, beat drops and The Weeknd encouraging the sold-out crowd of more than 45,000 like an enthusiastic Peloton instructor as he poured his gorgeous upper range over a trio of “Dawn FM” tracks – “Gasoline,” “Sacrifice” and “How Do I Make You Love Me?”
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Though no band was present (or at least seen), the music unfurled seamlessly and crisply as the man born Abel Tesfaye cavorted between the front stage and a runway that stretched the length of the field, often surrounded by mysterious dancers in full-body shrouds.
At 32, The Weeknd has already crafted record-breaking releases – in January, “Dawn FM” charted 24 songs on Billboard’s Global 200 chart – headlined a Super Bowl halftime show, boycotted the Grammy Awards and now conceived an ambitious sprawl of a stadium spectacle that mostly flourishes.
The creative setup includes field seating that partially faces the runway rather than the main stage, giving the show an in-the-round vibe (a giant inflatable Earth hangs at the other end of the stadium for reasons only The Weeknd could answer). Two small video screens attached to light towers faced those in the nether regions, but with the primary screen used only for aesthetics, more than half of the stadium was denied any close-ups of the singer.
But no one could refute The Weeknd’s unflagging energy, the scope of his catalog curated for the set list or his cool-guy vibe (after about six songs, he stripped off a black coat that had to be sweltering in Philly’s summer humidity, but retained his black gloves that matched the rest of his ensemble).
His appealing blend of New Wave and pop with smidgens of hip-hop and soul were sometimes mixed with dramatic accouterments, such as the church organ that introduced “Hurricane,” his song with Ye.
And while the exceptional lighting – which stuttered with teal shades during “Kiss Land” and the ensuing “Party Monster” – carried the visual aspects of the concert, The Weeknd threw in some rock trappings with giant puffs of pyro exploding along the catwalk and adding to the meltdown of the skyline during “The Hills.” A supply of plastic wristbands handed out to concertgoers upon arrival blinked faithfully during the gliding “I Feel It Coming,” which also featured a cameo of Jim Carrey’s smooth-groove DJ voice from the “Dawn FM” album.
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The most major of The Weeknd’s hits – “Can’t Feel My Face,” “Starboy” and, toward the end of the 100-minute show, “Blinding Lights” – caused mini eruptions in the crowd as they screamed familiar choruses. But throughout the night, his fans, primarily the young men packing the venue, sang his words of love, lust and longing with gusto, The Weeknd their conduit for expression.
With his excellent “Dawn FM” album to still promote, The Weeknd naturally stoked the set list with current single “Out of Time,” a throwback ballad with DeBarge overtones, and the heavenly “Less Than Zero,” its spidery synthesizer inserts the perfect complement to the shimmery keyboards that propel “Save Your Tears,” which preceded it.
Last fall, The Weeknd decided to shift his tour from arenas to stadiums because he had a vision he wanted to present on a major scale. It was worth the wait.
Opening the show in lieu of Doja Cat, who announced in May that tonsil surgery would prevent her from joining the tour, were DJ/producers Mike Dean and Kaytranada (Swedish R&B singer Snoh Aalegra will join Dean on several dates in August).
Dean stood behind a bank of keyboards, presenting chill instrumentals with flecks of electric guitar for his 30-minute set as the crowd filtered in. At 7:30 p.m., Kaytranada bounced onto the stage to work his DJ setup – a laptop and mixing board – and slowly elevated the mood as he danced behind his table to remixes of songs by Rihanna and Janet Jackson, while also showcasing his own beats.
Both openers served more as accompaniment rather than an artist to engage with – creating even greater anticipation for The Weeknd’s arrival.
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