Xcel Energy Center was packed on Sunday night. The crowd stood for the entire performance by the Weeknd. The 14,000 fans sang along to every single song.
Is the Weeknd the next big R&B/pop superstar? His sold-out tour, two No. 1 albums, three No. 1 songs, two Grammys and all kinds of accolades would seem to suggest so.
But frankly his first arena headline appearance in the Twin Cities was less convincing than his well-crafted dark, gloomy pop-soul records.
For starters, the staging wasn’t especially compelling. Billed as Starboy: The Legend of the Fall Tour, this show ostensibly had a space-age theme. Some geometric panels suspended over a catwalk does not a spaceship make, even though they kept morphing like some wannabe super-sized Transformer toy.
A more apt title might have been the Project Runway Tour, because the Weeknd spent nearly the entire 80 minutes working a long needle-shaped runway that extended from the main stage. He didn’t strut or dance. He’s not a dancer. A few times he jumped up and down to hip-hop rhythms.
Accompanied by a three-man band stationed on the main stage, he was more exciting to listen to than watch, though early in the show the sound was hopelessly and unflatteringly echo-y.
The Weeknd has a fascinating voice, a supple tenor that recalls Michael Jackson in its elastic soulfulness. Some of his vocal showcases, like the early hit “Wicked Games” and the ballad “Angel,” were positively gorgeous, causing couples around the arena to swoon on date night. When he ended “Angel” with the soaring line “somebody to love,” you could sense libidos in action.
And then he followed that dynamic duo with “Earned It,” his first big pop hit and arguably the best thing about the movie “Fifty Shades of Grey” — and OMG, the crowd went wild.
Of course, the Weeknd pretty much had the fans at hello.
Born Abel Tesfaye 27 years ago in Toronto, the Weeknd began making a name for himself with mix tapes in 2011. He opted for the odd spelling of his moniker because a Canadian band had trademarked the Weekend. Among those helping him early in his career was producer Doc McKinney, who started his career in Minneapolis before moving to Toronto.
The Weeknd got a break when Drake took a shine to him and they collaborated on several songs on Drake’s sophomore album, “Take Care.” That led to the Weeknd’s recording deal and his 2015 best-seller, “Beauty Behind the Madness.”
Of course, his big hits were the big winners on Sunday. “Can’t Feel My Face,” the 2015 blockbuster, was the kind of contagious dance tune that the Weeknd needed to perk up his overly mellow repertoire. And he closed with the chart-topping “The Hills,” a big ballad with a big beat and 14,000 backup singers.
The relatively brief performance suggested that the Weeknd will need a more diverse repertoire and more dynamic stage presence in order to be mentioned in the same breath with Bruno Mars as America’s new multi-generational R&B/pop superstar.
A parade of performers opened Sunday’s concert — Lil Panda, Nav and Gucci Mane.