The highly revered, depraved and intoxicating stylings of R&B's most intriguing new act, the Weeknd, will take over the First Avenue Mainroom this Sunday for a surprise stop on the Canadian group's first international tour. With critical nods from nearly everywhere and a consistent reputation for smoky nocturnal tracks, it's amazing they've barely been around a year.
In a whirlwind nine-month period last year, singer Abel Tesfaye and producers Illogic and Doc McKinney (who was apparently born in St. Paul) released a trilogy of free albums that serve as a self-contained exploration of the dark side of R&B's seduction and continual highs. The syrupy production kept the soundscape smooth, eerie and lush, while Tesfaye's self-mythologizing crooning drew on themes of drug-fueled sex and monied stardom with an odd tinge of loneliness underneath. The albums were consistent with each other and built a world of mystique around the group, who initially gained serious critical attention with little else but a few song leaks and a co-sign from fellow Canadian Drake.
The lack of concrete info about the Weeknd at the beginning managed to add to the music's air of mystery, and allowed the character Tesfaye built to exist solely in the songs themselves. The three albums -- House of Balloons, Thursday, and Echoes of Silence -- blurs the lines of fantasy and reality easily, given that Tesfaye has yet to be interviewed and originally didn't associate his face with the music anywhere. As the groups buzz steadily grows (talks of signing with Drake's label are beginning to surface), this aspect may begin to subside -- as Tesfaye says himself in Rolling Stone, "'Til you're used to my face and my mystery fades / I got you".
Early reviews of the Weeknd's live show, complete with full band, have been incredibly positive, so it stands to reason that the unveiling will likely add elements to the sound rather than diminish it. His brand of falsetto slow jams appropriately captures the escapist zeitgeist of the modern moment in a way that is catchy and powerful, and seeing it all personified on stage will be a unique experience. This rare First Avenue performance stands to be one of the highlights of the year.
The Weeknd at First Ave Mainroom. Sunday, June 17, 8:30 pm, 18+, $30.00