The Weeknd arrived on a Tuesday this week, and by helicopter no less. His audience of competition winners travelled by coach to the misspelled R&B singer’s only UK show of the year, on a 380-acre island just off the Essex coast which was only accessible at low tide.
The unorthodox setting meant that there could be no diva antics from the Canadian born Abel Tesfaye. If he arrived too late to the stage his entire audience would be trapped until morning. That was probably a tempting possibility for many of his fans, who melted at sexually charged slow jams such as Earned It, his hit from the Fifty Shades of Grey soundtrack.
After unconventional beginnings, giving away three albums online in 2011, then filling the O2 Arena in 2013 without a hit to his name, Tesfaye has belatedly become a radio favourite. Though he has a new album due next month, he mostly stuck to his old favourites but did do his latest single, Can’t Feel My Face. It’s his poppiest moment to date, revelling in energetic immediacy.
The rest of his hour-long set had power and pace too, in contrast to the sweltering seduction of so much of his recorded material. His impossibly high voice only sounded innocent if you ignored lyrics that proclaimed him the world’s most prolific lovemaker in considerable detail.
His three-piece band roared in this tiny venue, a former bomb factory, especially when piling up the synths on The Hills. They made it worth the long journey for 450 to this strange location, a party island favoured by A-listers that was also once an army base and a rehab centre attended by Amy Winehouse.
The event doubled as an away day for Winehouse’s record label, Island. Popular artists including John Newman and Rizzle Kicks watched, as did striking new French signing Petite Meller. Reggae newcomer Kiko Bun and harmonious indie band Flyte also performed, as well as fast-rising Jack Garratt with a hyperactive one-man show.
In this small space, The Weeknd showed why he has become such a big star. Expect his gig attendees to number in the many thousands when he next returns.