Pity the fans who thought they were in the front row for The Weeknd’s first night at the O2. The Canadian singer born Abel Tesfaye, the reigning king of “sex pop” as a recent magazine profile put it, emerged halfway up a suitably phallic ramp thrust far into the arena and left the most dedicated gazing at his distant back.
He had a three-piece band on the main stage but rarely went near them – appropriately, for this most solitary of solo acts. He earned his early profile by giving away three albums without record label involvement, and has continued to trade in stark, dark R&B in which sex and drugs act as a fleeting cure for loneliness.
Much has been made of his high, angelic voice’s resemblance to Michael Jackson’s, but he’s no dancer. Es Devlin’s incredible set offered all the spectacle, a looming, illuminated set of tilting and lowering triangles. It brought the show into the centre of the vast room, enabling a stronger connection between the lustful crowd and the isolated man singing cold songs such as Acquainted and Six Feet Under.
He has brightened his sound to an extent as he has progressed, working with Max Martin on his rubbery 2015 hit Can’t Feel My Face and Daft Punk on his blissful newest single, I Feel It Coming – saved for a late highlight. Here they gave this strange man enough pop appeal to convince as a huge star.
Tonight, O2 Arena, SE10 (0844 824 4824, the02.co.uk); July 9, Wireless Festival, Finsbury Park, N4 (0844 844 0444, wirelessfestival.co.uk)