The Weeknd, gig review: 'His dark, intense music fills the size of the O2'

The 02 Arena, London

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The Independent Culture

Everyone loves a slow jam these days, but if sex was as much of a shadowy psychodrama as Canadian R&B man The Weeknd often makes it sound, I’m not sure people would bother very often.

There he is, crooning 'Pretty' with face pressed up close to the camera, multiplied all over the stage pleading “Said you fucked another man… he can’t make you feel this beautiful.”

Fortunately, The Weeknd live is nowhere as near as narcotically one-note and oppressive as it can often be on record. He’s really a very charming guy on stage, bouncing around, clutching the mic like he’s cradling a lover’s head, asking us with the greatest of grace whether he can get sexy with us tonight. (And then more impertinently, if he can make us come four times.)

He’d have to have live appeal to be bringing such a dark, singular, intense music to a space the size of the O2. Many purveyors of hipster R&B (and there are many) would struggle to make even its little sister the indigo2 work, and few would  get the chance to try. And he does it pretty much through force of personality - apart from the intro of ‘Adaptation/Love In The Sky’, sung from within a backlit, cuboid gauze curtain, stagecraft is limited to visuals dominated by Tokyo-style neon lights and (yaaaaawn) tactically cut girl-on-girl porn.

At a venue where over the past year Beyonce, Gaga and Girls Aloud have all played, it’s impressive to see a single guy work the room with just a band, a bounce, and a hell of a voice, all warm and creepy and intimate, intermittently leaping up into soul-wracked effusions.

The already dubstep-doomy songs become punchier with the aid of the band ‘The Town’ and Drake collab ‘Crew Love’ turning a harsh-beated, rocky cheek. Softer moments are just as appealing, like the liquid acoustic backing of ‘Loft Music’, and the chilly, Siouxsie-sampling ‘House Of Balloons’/’Glass Table Girls’.

He closes with ‘Wicked Game’ for which the house lights go off, and the phones go up. “I know we got some weed smokers in here so let's get some lighters up,” bellows Tesfaye. Ah, he can smell it too, then. But tonight proves deftly that, not just for hipsters, caners and those prone to scary, paranoid passions,  The Weeknd is something for all.