Last night, at a sold out Rogers Centre in downtown Toronto, about 25 kilometres from his native Scarborough, The Weeknd held a triumphant victory lap in his home city on the After Hours Til Dawn tour.
But it wasn’t just a win for Abel Tesfaye. The surprisingly multi-generational audience was there to celebrate alongside one of their own.
“My first show in Toronto...my first show ever, was in 2011,” he said after “Starboy,” during the nearly two-hour set. “Now we’re doing it in the SkyDome back to back.”
There were no big surprises. No onstage reunions. It was just Abel, and that’s all the 45,000 hometown fans wanted or needed.
And they’d been waiting for a long time. The first attempt to bring After Hours home in July was postponed just hours before due to a nationwide Rogers network outage that kept part of the country’s phones dark. Then Toronto fans got a scare earlier this month when Abel stopped his Los Angeles show mid-song after losing his voice. But on Thursday night, it all went according to plan.
And The Weeknd was able to give every bit of energy to the Toronto faithful, including one front-row who held an “Abel I went to West Hill (Collegiate Institute)” sign, just to bring home just how close people here feel to the homegrown superstar. The 45,000 stopped Abel, mostly alone on the giant floor-length catwalk all night save for his druid dancers, dead in his tracks multiple times with their chants.
“My first show in Toronto...my first show ever, was in 2011. Now we’re doing it in the SkyDome back to back.”
It was pretty clear this was no ordinary tour stop for the man himself, either, starting with the not-so-correctly scaled CN Tower in the background cityscape on the main stage. The buildings shined at first as Abel emerged from the ether for an intro of Dawn FM selections, only to become engulfed in flames with hair-raising ferocity on “The Hills” from 2015’s Beauty Behind the Madness. By the end, the crumbling metropolis glistened once again, and Abel was there to play both the Dark Knight and Joker of his own Gotham, simultaneously the hero and villain always.
But that skyline, which accompanies him on every tour date, just feels like Toronto when you’re in Toronto. And he was there to remind the crowd this was his home as much as theirs.
“Toronto, look what you motherfucking done,” he said during “Starboy,” geotagging the lyrics slightly. “Toronto, do you love me?” He asked on “Wicked Games,” taking fans back to the beginning with 2011’s House of Balloons (a location of Toronto lore), and it wasn’t so much a question but an acknowledgement of codependency in the most positive of senses.
“Who was at my first show?” He asked to huge applause, only to point out only a small pocket of fans at Rogers Centre could fill the cozy Mod Club.
Given the epic nature of The Weeknd’s current tour and previous tours, it’s hard to imagine the humble beginnings. The ecclesiastical-yet-demonic synth treatment from Mike Dean (who also opened) added so much heft to Abel’s older hits it’s hard to imagine them existing in any other way than filling a cavernous stadium. Tesfaye, too, knows how to hit the cheap seats with a crotch chop, or tongue flick.
The show started promptly and ended with a little extra time on the clock, leading fans to wait after the house lights went up in case there was a surprise in store. In the end, The Weeknd satisfied without one-off stunts, or with reinforcements. In just over a decade, The Weeknd made the four-kilometre trek from a small Toronto club to its biggest stadium, but in between, it meant evolving from a secretive singer with hardly any photos on Google to one of the most visible people on the planet. And his fellow Torontonians were more than happy to celebrate that fact. They came to watch one of their own.