Mystery has always been an important part of The Weeknd's whole shtick. Having dropped three hugely successful mixtapes, the first of which was preceded by no hype or co-signs, and the following ones only by the quality of the first volume (which bagged the singer a co-sign from fellow Toronto native Drake), along with only a handful of videos and sticking to a strictly "no interviews" policy, little is known about Abel Tesfaye. Whether The Weeknd is his alias or the name of a collective including the producers and musicians that surrounds him, we still aren't quite sure. And it's this mysterious phenomena that allows him to flog 289,000 units in a week when his previously free projects are released at retail, sell his live shows out within a minute of going on sale, and have a new genre cropping up every time a critic chooses to write about him.
The Weeknd's live show is our only glimpse of his personality other than what he has chosen to commit to record, and with his hazy drug veiled ballads, not a huge amount is allowed to seep through. On appearing on stage at Manchester's The Ritz, it's impressive how much like these recordings Abel sounds as he reels through fan favourites and new tracks, including 'High For This', his feature on Juicy J's latest single 'One Of Those Nights' and current single 'Twenty Eight'. Although the recordings are delivered stone-faced and seriously, the Canadian crooner can't help but drop in a cheeky smile here and there, along with the odd MJ-inspired dance move, as he looks on over his cult-like fanbase.
Having released such a quantity of music in such a short space of time, The Weeknd hasn't really had time to breathe. One of the only wavers in his live show is his ability to provide some variation whilst performing a selection of songs that were all presumably recorded around the same time, rarely varying in mood or subject matter. He manages to counter this in some cases with epic live arrangements, including Drake-collab 'Crew Love' and a phenomenal performance of 'Glass Table Girls' utilising his live band, adding drum fills and an energy that would feel more at home at a metal gig than an R&B show. However, having already covered the fan favourites and finishing up with a lighters-in-the-air rendition of 'Wicked Games' the encore of 'Lonely Star' and 'Outside' does feel a little anti-climatic - although this doesn't spoil too much.
Without unveiling too much of the mystery, Abel's live show gives just enough away to leave fans feeling closer to the man behind the music, and as all great shows should, adds further context to his work. We now know that as well as being able to record masterpieces, he also has the skills to back it up with flawless live performances renditions, as well as getting tiny glimpses of playfulness from the 23-year-old who - let's face it - behind his melancholic catalogue, must be having the time of his life right now.
Words and photos by Grant Brydon