Something was missing Sunday night at AT&T Stadium.
But no one in attendance seemed to notice. Or care.
The Weeknd, the pop superstar who has topped the charts with a series of synth-heavy, rave-style anthems, often with dark themes and debaucherous undertones, brought his “After Hours Til Dawn” tour to Arlington for a night of sensory overload that danced off every corner of the stadium.
// idk some of my photos from the weeknd concert are just so pretty pic.twitter.com/HQ5rwXkwt2
— stinky goblin❀ (@elsiekotone) August 15, 2022
The approximately 60,000 in attendance were entranced from the moment The Weeknd, born Abel Tesfaye, first appeared, rising up from behind a collection of massive models portraying a decaying city skyline, including some imitations of iconic buildings, to the show opener “Alone Again,” the lead track from his 2020 album After Hours.
From the massive main stage, which sat at one end of the stadium’s floor — which prevented seats from being sold for about a quarter of the building — a long catwalk stretched to the other end of the floor to a diamond-shaped smaller stage. Between the two ends of the catwalk, was a circle-shaped stage, where The Weeknd, in all black, including black gloves, spent much of his time during the hour and a half show.
Accompanying the singer-songwriter, were 22 red-clad dancers (although their dancing was minimal). Their entire bodies, including their faces, were covered in red. They moved in choreographed lines up and down the stage throughout the night, offering a creepy “Handmaid’s Tale” vibe to the proceedings.
So what was missing? Musicians.
The entire show was basically The Weeknd performing karaoke, singing to prerecorded tracks, sans any sort of band.
It was the ninth show on his 17-date stadium tour of North America, which ends Sept. 22 in his hometown of Toronto, Canada. The tour was supposed to start there on July 9, but the show was postponed because of a nation-wide wireless outage.
No one in the building seemed fazed, or surprised that he was performing without a band. Maybe I’m naive (or too old), but I prefer my live shows to, you know, actually be performed live. Yes, he was singing live, and his silky voice sounded great. In fact, the music sounded great, even in the cavernous confines of AT&T Stadium. But if you’re singing to prerecorded tracks, the music certainly should sound flawless.
What’s most disappointing about the experience is just how talented a songwriter The Weeknd has proven to be, and the lost opportunity to truly blow some minds. Imagine, if you will, a couple of keyboard players, a guitarist, a drummer, maybe a pianist and organist, providing a live backbone to some of his trippy dance grooves? It could have been a transcendent night of pop music, enhanced by enough lasers, lighting effects, shooting fire, and theatrics to make U2, Taylor Swift and Garth Brooks to reevaluate their stage shows.
For the devoted — mostly older teens and twenty-somethings living life on Instagram — it no doubt was a night to remember as the singer kept the stage banter to a minimum as one trance-inducing, pulsing rhythm segued into the next, parts of 29 songs total, including covers of Kanye West’s “Hurricane,” Drake’s “Crew Love,” and Future’s “Low Life.” Much of the material came from his two most recent releases, including Dawn FM, which came out in January.
The allure of The Weeknd, as an artist and a performer, is easy to see, hear and feel. His music is retro but at the same time sounds like the future. The illicit themes in his lyrics and the bare honesty he often highlights, are hallmarks of a star we like to gravitate to. Plus, he’s so darn charming and slyly handsome, especially when he couldn’t help but smile widely back at his fans.
Another pet peeve? He saluted Dallas 10 times throughout the show. If he mentioned Arlington, I must’ve missed it. Why is this still annoying? Because Arlington is its own thing. It’s the 49th largest city in the country. It’s not Dallas. I wonder if an artist playing Mississauga kept thanking Toronto whether that would go over well? But I digress.
The Weeknd deserves everything he’s earned, the record sales, the sold-out tickets, all of it. He has the music to back it up. Just not a touring band, and that’s a shame.
What he offered Sunday night, was way too close to K-Pop territory. His music is so much better, so much deeper, so much more adult, but the stage performance was eerily similar.
It’s disheartening, really, that 60,000 fans are fine listening to their hero sing along to a tape machine.
What are we doing here? Are we performing live or not? On Sunday, for The Weeknd, well, sort of.
The Weeknd setlist, Aug. 14, 2022 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas
1. Alone Again
3. Sacrifice (Remix)
4. How Do I Make You Love Me?
5. Can’t Feel My Face
6. Take My Breath
7. Hurricane (Kanye West cover)
8. The Hills
10. Crew Love (Drake cover)
13. Low Life (Future cover)
14. Or Nah (Ty Dolla $ign cover)
15. Kiss Land (First half only)
16. Party Monster
18. After Hours
19. Out of Time
20. I Feel It Coming
21. Die for You
22. Is There Someone Else?
23. I Was Never There
24. Wicked Games
25. Call Out My Name
26. The Morning
27. Save Your Tears
28. Less Than Zero
29. Blinding Lights