The masses of 20-somethings – boys in snapbacks and beanies, girls dressed more “night-out formal” – snaking around the side of the Manchester Apollo probably aren't expecting to be faced with two plushy green cats after passing through security. Nonetheless, they react in the same way they would have 20 years ago: standing next to the costumed characters and striking a pose.
Of course, 20 years prior the result wouldn't be immediately uploaded to Instagram. But this is the first indication that, for tonight, we aren't in the usual gig environment. We've entered The Weeknd’s theme park-cum-nightmare world, Kiss Land.
Having previously never had support acts, the Kiss Land experience showcases two acts that add to the rollercoaster ride. Heading proceedings is Banks, and the mysterious siren songstress proves hypnotising to watch, moving around in a mermaid-like manner as she performs bass-drenched songs from her outstanding ‘London’ EP as well as singles ‘Warm Water’ and ‘Fall Over’, and a beautiful rendition of Lauryn Hill’s ‘Ex-Factor’.
Zane Lowe follows with a DJ set that fuses current hip-hop and bass music, with an enthusiasm that walks the line between showmanship and insanity – at one point he leaves the turntables to rap along to Drake’s ‘Started From The Bottom’. Nonetheless, his performance is very entertaining and does a great job of warming up the crowd.
If Zane is the tipping point of the rollercoaster, it is when Abel Tesfaye takes to the stage that the audience takes the dive. Plunging into the Torontonian’s world of one-night stands, drugs, touring, porn, hotel rooms and Japanese cartoons, Abel commands the huge stage solitarily, with his band tucked out of the way, giving the vocalist an intensified sense of loneliness.
His official debut album, ‘Kiss Land’ (Clash review), allows for a much more dynamic live experience than his mixtape trilogy, with an epic sensibility and a denser instrumental structure giving the band more to play with. At one point Abel even informs the crowd that the record was made to be heard live, hinting that the minority in the room who haven’t heard ‘Kiss Land’ yet might be enjoying a superior experience.
Abel’s stage set up is hugely improved from his dates here earlier in 2013, with sets resembling seedy Japanese back streets with neon signs advertising adult cinemas and cartoon-filled advertisements for condoms providing brief interludes within the show.
The album’s title-track provides the most impactful visual experience of the night, with the set going black for the track’s dreamy mid-section, Abel staring up at the cat-motif that has become a common sight throughout the evening. When the second drop comes in the audience is crashed into a relentless and gigantic montage of hardcore pornography, which is artistically perfect, but may not have been in best taste given the ‘all-ages’ audience with a few parent-and-child attendees visually flustered (although surely they should have been aware of Abel’s subject matter beforehand?).
Despite having only released his first mixtape in 2011, The Weeknd’s catalogue is now as deep as many bands manage in an entire career, and it’s great to see his live show is catching up to his status as a recording artist. Where his debut studio album saw a heightened production value, this translates to the live format also. We look forward to hearing how his new set fares when located in even larger venues when he returns for Drake’s ‘Would You Like A Tour?’ in 2014.
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Words: Grant Brydon