THE WEEKND at 1STBANK CENTER | 9/20/13 Though visually heightened by flashes of naked, writhing women and feeling rather Internet-manic with its placement of faux-commercials for condoms between songs, the Weeknd's show at 1STBANK Center was simply okay. But for fans of the Toronto-based musician and his steady stream of mixtapes and albums since 2011, the show was long-awaited, as Abel Tesfaye made his first-ever appearance in Colorado.
Prized for his disarmingly seductive and simultaneously degrading lyrics, Tesfaye's charm was overshadowed by the cheap and cheerful LED porn that played out behind him -- in a massive ten-screen statement, one that felt worth ignoring. It was as if the show was set up to diminish the genius in his lyrics, depreciating the context by sidling up songs like "Love In The Sky" and "Loft Music" against the exploitative imagery.
But before all of that, there was opener Banks, who went on promptly at 8 p.m. and closed it down in less than thirty minutes. The L.A. based singer had a gorgeous voice, but it seemed lost in the big room. Her minimal accompaniment didn't help either, as she wandered the desolate stage projecting "Fall Over" and "Warm Water" into the air.
Banks' cover of Lauryn Hill's "Ex-Factor" was definitely a highlight, lifting her voice up and out of the arena's dead space. Her between song banter was effortful and awkward, as the singer's voice boomed above the silent crowd like a voice-over in a commercial. Portishead played between Banks' and the Weeknd's sets, as if to highlight her good but fairly unmoving and slim vocal performance.
The Weeknd made his appearance from behind a large screen after 9 p.m., and the drama of the set-up was perfect. But shortly after, the screens went from dim to oversaturated, harsh pinks and neon greens blazing into the dark. His voice shot through to his audience immediately, connecting with the screams from a female-dominated crowd. "Belong To The World" and "The Town" boomed, Tesfaye conducting the lights and beats with raised arms.
With stage now bathed in aqua and deep red lighting, the singer acknowledged what the crowd wanted. "Let's go back to the classics, alright?," remarked the debonair Tesfaye, before heading into "House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls" and "High For This." Diving into the title track of his just-released record, Tesfaye went into "Kiss Land," signaling a shift to the heavily pornographic visuals, but he still kept his eyes on the audience. Again, the mature content of his clever lyrics quickly felt contrived by the imagery of women shoving their fingers in each other's mouths. But the crowd seemed unfazed, swaying and screaming in delight.
"Live For" and "John Carpenter" pushed the set through, interrupted by more annoying pretend-commercials. In a world where commercials are a part of every single thing we do on this planet every single day, the novelty of cartoonish advertisements was a little played and artistically ineffective. But the night fell silent quickly after, and the crowd rushed for the doors before the final song was over.
Still, Tesfaye and his band made it out for an encore -- the excellently chosen "Wicked Games," which was worth sticking around for. As a performer, The Weeknd is on point -- he sounded great, engaged with his fervent audience and played a nice mix of tracks from his short but robust career so far. If only he could lose all of the showy and nonessential bullshit, it might be easier to pay attention to his smart and remarkably harsh lyrics.
Personal Bias: House of Balloons was one of my favorite records of 2011. I also have nothing against the cable-friendly version of porn used as visuals for this show, but the cuts of party-trick lesbianism wasn't entertaining to me, and watching two women on ten-foot tall screens fondle each other was boring. Random Detail: By the Way: The choice of venue seemed odd, size-wise. Atmospherically-speaking, it would have made more sense to pack a smaller house rather than try to fill the already-partitioned off 1STBANK Center, which was way, way too big for this show.
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