ACL artist preview: The Weeknd brings drug-fueled, atmospheric R&B tosun-drenched stage
Young gun Abel Tesfaye (born in 1990) burst through the doors of the indie R&B scene in March 2011 as the Weeknd with the first of three free albums, House of Balloons. So powerful was the world Tesfaye created with the tracks on the first mixtape, albeit drug-riddled and sex-fueled, Drake tapped the Weeknd as "the greatest thing to happen to music in a long time."
Emerging from virtually nowhere, the only history found on the Weeknd is a collection of YouTube videos that Toronto-based Tesfaye uploaded under the same moniker in 2010. Yet Tesfaye's undeniable ability to create and direct a distinct mood on House of Balloons landed his tracks in the hands of critics at Complex, the Guardian, MTV, BET and Rolling Stone — the majority of whom offered unyielding praise for the genre-blending music.
House of Balloons (arguably the strongest), Thursday and Echoes of Silence (featuring the aforementioned Drake) are the kinds of records that, once heard all the way through, you'll want to want to spin again and need a hot shower to bring you back to your senses — if you even want to come down from the nocturnal high. His crooning falsetto laid over "ghostly and mournful beats" transports you to a dark, dank, sinful, slow-moving party that you know you shouldn't be at but are rendered powerless to leave.
The transition from "House of Balloons" into "Glass Table Girls," for one, is a searing move from a discerning Tesafaye accompanying aggressive, pulsating synth into overtly numbed lyrics over hallucinatory beats. As Pitchfork wrote upon the first mixtape's debut, "though the image of nightlife painted by the Weeknd isn't a place you'd ever want to live, it's one that's frankly very hard to stop listening to."
After finding his legs the first few months out on tour after the success of his free trilogy, Tesfaye successfully moves the music from recording booth to live band without losing the atmospheric affect of the album.
Currently on tour with the more accessible Florence + The Machine, it'll be interesting, to say the least, to see how the Weeknd and its audience interprets the 5:15 p.m. Sunday slot at ACL. It's probable that superfans will just be coming down from the official late night show, taking place some 15 hours prior.