That saying, “Youth is wasted on the young,” said by Shaw or some other — it doesn’t really apply to the 16,500 tipsy, litty and sultry souls who smoldered with confidence at a sold out Amalie Arena in Tampa on Friday night. And for 90-minutes, those youths’ hero — Abel Tesfaye (the 27-year-old Toronto-born superstar otherwise known as The Weeknd) — would preach the glorious gospel of excess to a legion of followers more than willing to fall in line behind the communiqué of living for right now. No matter how many drinks, lines or drags on a THC-laced vape pen that means.
Playlist: Stream/download every song The Weeknd played at Tampa’s Amalie Arena on May 12
It’s no secret that Tesfaye — who broke out thanks to a 2011 mixtape (House of Balloons) that sampled everything from Aaliyah and Beach House to the Cocteau Twins and even Japanese visual novel “Fate/stay night” — loves drugs, money and seemingly every stripper on the planet, but he’s stoned the debauchery down a bit over the last half decade (during which he released two more mixtapes and three major label albums, including last year’s Starboy). Sure, “Reminder,” is a jab at critics who think he’s lost his edge, but Friday night’s set at Amalie proved that The Weeknd’s fans have done more moving towards the dark side than he has to the light.
And boy did it feel good.
Taking the stage underneath an amorphous, overhead lighting rig that kind of resembled an Imperial Star Destroyer, Tesfaye popped out of a long catwalk and immediately launched into a four-pack of high-energy of Starboy tracks before inviting opener Belly to work through “Might Not” from the XO-signee’s 2015 mixtape Up For Days. He would bring all the openers, including rising young Atlanta rapper 6black and Rae Sremmurd — who charmed with a fun take on “Black Beatles” — onstage at some point in his own set, but Tesfaye didn’t necessarily need help to keep the energy at near-nuclear levels.
Review: The Weeknd brings sin, good times to Amalie Arena in Tampa (2015)
To be clear, The Weeknd does not do party rocking songs. No, he does 100-percent turn up music. The kind that makes you curl your lip and then snarl at your homies in a way that is only possible after having at least five whiskeys neat. A song like the Ali Shaheed Muhammad-produced “Sidewalks” pays homage to Tesfaye’s humble-beginnings couch surfing through The Six, but it’s still wholly effective in keeping a crowd rapping along to each and every word. And they did.
Review: The Weeknd pours on the PBR&B at Straz's Morsani Hall (2013)
The Weeknd’s Bay area live debut was in 2013 at the Straz Center’s Carol Morsani Hall. The 2,610 capacity room where Tesfaye put on a borderline pornographic, totally enthralling, set is just one mile away from the Vinik-dome, but his charisma and ability to command a crowd is thousands of miles gone from that guy supporting his official debut LP (Kiss Land). At the drop of a beat (and at the sound of his bafflingly effortless croon) Tesfaye can create grinding in the seats (“Often”), deafening shrieks (the Soul Dog-sampling “Tell Your Friends”) and eyes-closed devotions to that feeling when all of your misbehaving makes you feel like the biggest piece of shit in the world (“Wicked Games”). When the strobes illuminated the cheapest seats during “Acquainted,” all that could be seen was an arena filled with scores of humanity collectively losing their shit.
Tesfaye absorbs it all with a refreshing air of humility, too.
He was unrelenting in his love for his band (drummer Ricky Lewis, keyboardist/bassist LJ Jones, guitarist Patrick Greenaway) and even a monitor malfunction on “Secrets” was handled with class (take notes, Yeezy). The appreciation for his audience was evident with every wave and toothy smile Tesfaye flashed at his adoring audience.
The Weeknd is a rare, once-in-a-generation talent who commands his crowd (Lord, the party during “I Can’t Feel My Face” and encore “The Hills”) while also empowering them to let them know he’s nothing without them.
The Starboy could certainly opt to operate in celestial territory if he wanted to, but Tesfaye knows belongs to the people who love him here on Earth — and this is only the begining.
Have a look at more of Phil’s photos from the show below, and listen to a playlist of songs from the set here.
Six Feet Under
Might Not (w/Belly)
Or Nah [Travis $cott]
Some Way [NAV]
Tell Your Friends
Die For You
PRBLMS (w/ 6lack)
In the Night
Black Beatles (w/ Rae Sremmurd)
I Can’t Feel My Face
I Feel It Coming