May 8, 2012
Better than: Cuddling up to Soundcloud.
"San Francisco, I want to hear you scream!"
This repeated command was one of the few things the Toronto-bred singer Abel Tesfaye, better known as the Weeknd, said to the sold-out crowd at the Fillmore last night -- that, and about his being really happy to play in such a "legendary-ass" venue. But it was ridiculously unnecessary, for the wall of wailing sound was already massive and impenetrable.That hailstorm of screaming is typically reserved for pop tartlets like Justin Bieber or, more closely, to Drake, who has catapulted from a starring role on Canada's answer to 90210 to the upper stratosphere of music stardom over the past two years. He's one of the Weeknd's most ardent fans (and now collaborators), and has immeasurably helped when it comes to introducing this newer artist to the masses. Being a live artist is still a new venture for the Weeknd, who released three free and remarkably developed albums online (House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence) last year. Onstage last night, he was vocally nimble and definitely comfortable with the falsetto trills that pepper his tunes, but there's also a delicate nature to his tone that found him frequently swallowed up by the typically bass-heavy instrumentation. He seemed already adjusted to the adulation, frequently taking on the role of conductor by waving his hands, egging it all on. Music critics, typically of the white male variety, love to talk about how Weeknd's music is just about a life full of drugs and debauched sex, drenched in a palette of perversion. But really, his idiom is really just about life, and he doesn't go so much further than most semi-adventurous folks. Onstage, what might have sounded lewd on record was couched in a quietly shy seduction. The opener, "High for This," found him suggesting to his lady that she might want to pop a pill or five before hitting the sheets -- but what can sound moody and sinister through headphones over the Internet felt far friendlier in person. "This ain't no fucking sing-along," he crooned on "Crew Love," his hit with Drake, that fragile tone drowned out by a cacophony of female voices. "So, girl, what you singing for?"