For the past two years, while we’ve all been stuck inside or slowly re-acclimating ourselves with the world outside, the Weeknd has been putting on a masterclass in musical world-building. Both After Hours, released at the height of the pandemic in 2020, and Dawn FM, which dropped in January of this year, were visual undertakings as much as they were musical projects. The two albums (the dance-heavy Dawn FM especially) lend themselves to the live experience and beg to be consumed and celebrated apart from a siloed listening. Thankfully, the Weeknd finally brought the two projects—as well as nods to each of his eras—to the most “outside” you can be: a stadium tour, with the first stop at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

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It hasn’t been the easiest road to get here. The Weeknd initially announced an After Hours tour back on February 20, 2020; a couple of postponements and a new LP later, he rebranded and set his sights on larger venues. He announced the After Hours til Dawn tour after yet another delay due to the war in Ukraine and then hit another roadblock just hours before its original opening night in Toronto last week. A massive internet outage forced the show to be postponed which meant Lincoln Financial Field would kickoff the stadium run.

The crowd was understandably full of pent-up energy. Fans spent the couple hours before Tesfaye took the stage sneaking into each section’s first row and exchanging thoughts on merch (“I love your necklace” a girl on line for crab fries told another who wore a shiny ‘XO’ pendant). An inflated moon, tens of feet tall, glowed as the sun fell and thick smog began to fill the stadium at intervals: first blue, then white, and then blue again. Eventually, the chants of “Abel” subdued and over a dozen red shrouded figures emerged. It was time to begin.

The Weeknd, at first wearing a mask and a long black coat instead of reprising his After Hours–era red suit (thankfully), opened the show standing on top of his apocalyptic city set, in front of a massive screen adorned with lights and lasers that dispersed across Lincoln Financial Field. Tesfaye set the vibe with “Alone Again,” a moody and intense After Hours deep cut. He then went on a Dawn FM spree, performing “Gasoline,” “Sacrifice,” and “How Do I Make You Love Me” in succession as if to establish that the beginning of the show was foremost about giving his two recent projects their due. The hits and the fan favorites would come soon enough, but we would have to wait.

Ed Newton*

Tesfaye moved back and forth across the catwalk which stretched almost the entire length of the field for the duration of the show. At times, the lyrics seem to tumble out of him, like the Weeknd couldn’t wait to deliver these songs in a setting like this. He worked the crowd, flashing a wide grin when he made eye contact with fans who were singing the hell out of “Kiss Land.”

As the set continued, the Weeknd dove deep into his discography. The aforementioned “Kiss Land,” which Tesfaye hadn’t performed since 2013, elicited a feral reaction from longtime fans. This was for those who’d been around for a while—I’m talking Mod Club in Toronto for Tesfaye’s first show or Paradise Theater up in the Bronx in 2012. The Weeknd went even further back than “Kiss Land,” performing “Wicked Games” and “The Morning” off his genre-redefining House of Balloons debut mixtape.

The show had its horny-jail moments. During his performance of the 11-times platinum “The Hills,” the Weeknd grabbed his crotch, gyrated, and humped the air. During a transition that led into the fan favorite and highly suggestive “Often,” Tesfaye stuck his tongue out and flicked it back and forth repeatedly. In line with Tesfaye celebrating his career’s biggest moments, he performed his extremely R-rated “Or Nah” verse from 2014. His fans loved it. Parents winced. Such is the dichotomy of a Weeknd show.

The Weeknd made sure to touch all corners of his discography, going from streaming behemoths like “Save Your Tears” and “Can’t Feel My Face” which elicited high energy responses from the crowd to slowing it down and playing some more poignant cuts like “Die For You,” which Tesfaye performed for the first time in five years underneath the suspended moon. And I’d be remiss not to mention the braggadocious Metro Boomin-produced “Heartless” where we’re partial to a certain line: “Photoshoots, I’m a star now/I’m talking Time, Rolling Stone, and Bazaar now.”

“Tonight is actually the first night of the [tour],” the Weeknd informed the crowd, sounding relieved if anything. “Not a bad turnout.” 

The sheer scope of the performance — and the numbers in the stands — became most apparent every time wristbands, distributed to fans as they entered the stadium, glowed in coordination with the set. During the high energy “Less Than Zero,” the wristbands (along with the strobe lights and the levitating moon) turned blue, setting off a beautiful lightshow to accompany a song about being unable to face your “darkest truth.” More dichotomy at work.

The Weeknd capped the evening off with a dazzling performance of “Blinding Lights,” as strobe lights that lined the catwalk on either side shot up into the night sky, far beyond the confines of the Eagles’ home stadium.

Hyghly Alleyne*

After he finished, Tesfaye looked around, seeming to take it all in. He then turned, as if he had suddenly become one of his era-defining characters and been put under a trance, and began to follow the red shrouded figures through the apocalyptic city set and off-stage. The house lights came up, music began to play on the speakers, and it became apparent (though not immediately) that the show was over.

There was a sense of confusion at first — it was an anticlimactic end to a boisterous evening — but it’s not unlike Tesfaye to march to his own drum and at his own pace. If the evening showed us anything, it’s the Weeknd’s ability to excel across genres and evolve his sound without losing a step. He relishes in flipping the script and does so to great success. That success materialized last night in the form of a stadium full of people singing hit after hit released across a decade of dominance. 

Setlist:

“Alone Again”
“Gasoline”
“Sacrifice”
“How Do I Make You Love Me”
“Can’t Feel My Face”
“Take My Breath”
“Hurricane”
“The Hills”
“Often”
“Crew Love”
“Starboy”
“Heartless”
“Low Life”
“Or Nah”
“Kiss Land”
“Party Monster”
“Faith”
“After Hours”
“Out of Time”
“I Feel It Coming”
“Die For You”
“Is There Someone Else?”
“I Was Never There”
“Wicked Games”
“Call Out My Name”
“The Morning”
“Save Your Tears”
“Less Than Zero”
“Blinding Lights”

 

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