The Weeknd’s first headlining appearance in Kansas City was a success on all levels.
The Grammy-winning R&B/hip-hop singer (born Abel Tesfaye) with a soulful falsetto has been releasing music for more than seven years, evolving quickly into a multi-platinum recording artists through three albums, including “Starboy,” his latest, released in November.
Tuesday night, he drew about 14,000 fans to the Sprint Center for his Starboy: Legend of the Fall Tour, and he delivered 90 feverish minutes of visual flash and dazzle and musical pomp and pizzazz.
The production was stellar throughout. The stage was equipped with a few video screens, two that hung from the rafters, flanking the stage, delivering close-up images of the Weeknd; the other was a horizontal strip that ran the width of the stage, broadcasting graphics and other visuals.
A long runway, in the shape of a sword blade, ran from the main stage far into the seats on the floor. The Weekend made good use of that, running, dancing, hopping and otherwise moving along it throughout the show.
Above the stage hovered a contraption that initially appeared as some needle-nosed spaceship, embroidered with neon lights, pointing skyward, as if in a state of flight.
It would move, rise, drop and dip and disassemble itself into discrete parts that engaged in their own choreography, at times dancing as beams that floated above the Weekend, spilling shafts of light onto the runway. There was more visual garnish: spotlights, lasers, plumes and gusts of fog.
Backed by a live band and some backing tracks, he opened with “Starboy,” the funky title track to his latest album, a song produced by and featuring Daft Punk. He followed that with “Party Monster,” another “Starboy” track and one that delves into the issue of the paranoia and other benefits/consequences of the stardom lifestyle: rampant drugs and sex.
Many of the Weeknd’s lyrics plumb those issues and that lifestyle. Some are erotic, nearly hardcore pornographic. In that world sex is casual and disposable, just another addiction, another way to cop a buzz.
In “The Hills,” which closed the show, he boasts coldly to a conquest that she’s the third woman he’s had sex with that day.
Musically, the Weeknd glides seamlessly from one style to another: R&B, soul, hip-hop and rock. He also straddles eras. He can sound like his contemporaries one minute, like his fellow-Canadian, Drake, but veer into an R&B-pop sound that evokes Michael Jackson, as he did during “In the Night,” a keyboard-laden anthem embellished with some rock guitar.
The big crowd acted like it was everyone’s first time seeing the headliner: excited, euphoric, engaged and ready to roar back any vocal part when prompted, which happened several times.
They reacted most enthusiastically during songs like “Earned It,” a broad-shouldered anthem that aroused a hearty sing-along; “Secrets,” a bright funky-pop number that cops some lyrics from a Romantics’ tune (“I hear the secrets that you keep / When you’re talking in your sleep”); “Can’t Feel My Face,” another jaunty funk-pop track with a Michael Jackson vibe; the rocking and defiant “Some Way,” which featured opener Nav; and another Daft Punk collaboration, “I Feel It Coming,” which closed the opening set.
Through it all, the Weeknd justified his stature as a bona fide arena star. He had plenty of visual stimulants around and above him, but none of that eclipsed the real reason for his success and appeal: his music and personae.
Gucci Mane: The trap pioneer and veteran rapper from Atlanta delivered a 30-minute-plus performance that was an effusive discharge of lyrics and beats — not much sonic diversity, but a relentless release of chaotic energy that aroused a big crowd. His set included “Both,” “I Think I Love Her,” “I Don’t Love Her,” “Bricks” and “Freaky Girl.”
Starboy; Party Monster; Reminder; Six Feet Under; Low Life; Might Not; Crew; Often; Acquainted; Or Nah; Some Way; Tell Your Friends; Die for You; The Morning; Wicked Games; Angel; Earned It; In the Night; Secrets; I Can’t Feel My Face; I Feel It Coming. Encore: The Hills.