Delivering an immaculate performance for the finale of his first stadium North American tour.
by Gabby Sgherri Photographer: Hyghly Alleyne
What was supposed to start off in the Weeknd’s hometown of Toronto finally came full circle last night as he performed night one of two for the finale of his After Hours till Dawn North American tour. It was arguably more fitting to conclude such a monumental moment in his career—not many artists can pull off a stadium tour—in the city where it all started and it allowed him to add an additional night for his hometown fans. Since the release of After Hours in 2020 and Dawn FM at the beginning of 2022, Abel Tesfaye has been giving us a master class in the art of building a fictional world for his albums to live in and characters to exist. This tour marked the first time both albums came to life (and worlds collided) in what will eventually be another trilogy. I could feel the frenzy in the Rogers Centre before I even got to my seat. One girl behind me, in line for drinks, anxiously said to her friend on the phone I want another drink but I’ll DIE if I miss the beginning and the longest lines weren’t for food or drinks, but his merch. As the stage lit up in red to show a skyline of buildings, including the CN tower, screams got louder, and brightly lit cell phone screens went up eager to catch the moment Tesfaye appeared on stage. Cue the music and flickering lights, a plethora of red veiled figures lined up on stage reminiscent of those in the video for “Sacrifice”. Tesfaye’s voice flooded the stadium, as the fog cleared, revealing a figure standing on top of a building in the skyline and the show began.
The stage design had three parts, the main stage featuring the skyline, the walkway, and a smaller stage at the end of the walkway under which a large inflatable moon hung. All three were utilized by Tesfaye and the cult-like veiled figures throughout the show, along with pyrotechnics and perfectly timed to the beat lights, for a performance that truly felt suitable for the size of the venue. Starting off with songs from his recent albums (“Alone Again”, “Gasoline” and “Sacrifice”) he then went into his feature bag, halfway through, performing his part to pop culture zeitgeist anthems like “Crew Love”, “Low Life”, and “Or Nah”. For those who had doubts about the quality of sound being compromised in such a large setting—think again because Tesfaye’s voice was made for this. I can still remember the chills I felt when I heard House of Balloons for the first time on my iPod nano and seeing him live elicits the same reaction. It’s a nostalgic experience for longtime fans, and Tesfaye himself, to hear songs that marked the beginning of a decade-long (and counting) career affording us all the opportunity to reflect on how far we’ve come.
The setlist was a medley of Tesfaye’s extensive catalog, appeasing old and new fans, with some of the best transitions ever, period. For “Hurricane”, he melodically crooned the intro, and as soon as he finished the line “Don’t let me down / I know you won’t”, his hands slammed down in the air precisely as flames came out of burning buildings on the main stage while the beginning of “The Hills” flooded the stadium. Later, he stood under the moon, lit up in red, and veiled figures ritualistically danced around him to the siren-like production of “I Was Never There” which seamlessly transitioned into “Wicked Games” as all the lights turned blue, shifting the mood. The center walkway became the focal point, lit up by an array of white lights pointing to the sky creating a trance-like aura, and the veiled figures made their way back to the main stage. Tesfaye performed “Wicked Games” the lead single from his debut mixtape, House of Balloons, that revolutionized R&B cleverly changing the lyrics towards the end to ask the crowd “Toronto, do you love me, oh Scarborough, do you love me?”
The show was ominous, chaotic, theatrical, euphoric, and oh so very The Weeknd. Known to be a man of few words, Tesfaye expressed his undeniable gratitude telling the crowd at one point “You’ve just reminded me why I do what I do” and reflecting on his first ever show at the Mod Club in the same city. It was a special night for everyone in attendance, including the much older grandfather-like gentleman behind me, who happily sang the words to “After Hours” proving Tesfaye’s extensive reach isn’t just geographical but generational as well. If the Weeknd was the cult leader he portrays in his forthcoming HBO show, The Idol, then the 45,000-something crowd of last night was his followers hypnotized by the performance of a lifetime.