From what I hear, New York City’s Terminal 5 used to be a club and was converted into a concert venue. It’s the kind of place that reeks of regret, predators, Red Bull, and semen. Like, when you walk into a prison and you can feel that bad things have happened in this space on Earth, that’s the same kind of feeling you get when you first walk into Terminal 5.
I was there to see The Weeknd perform one of three consecutive sold out nights in the city. Last night he held a listening session where he played Trilogy, a collection of remastered songs from his first three mixtapes, plus a few new songs. So I guess this was the first concert of three. I don’t know. To be honest, I wasn’t completely excited about this show. I’d seen videos of his concerts and talked to people who had been; I wasn’t convinced that this guy was meant to be a live performer.
I got there a little later than most people, so there was no line, which is good because I hate cutting lines and being like, “I’m on the list.” I know that some people get off on doing that, but I’ve never liked it and sometimes if the line’s not long I’ll just wait in it. That seems lame, but really it’s like the ultimate humble brag, like Jay-Z riding the subway. Except nobody takes videos of me waiting in line and uploads them on YouTube. Unless I’m doing something reeeeally crazy, which is, like, very rare. Because again, it’s all about being humble.
So I walk right up, wearing a backpack because I’m usually wearing a backpack, and I get stopped by a guy in a bright yellow shirt. Bright yellow shirts usually mean you’re official, so I let him look through my backpack and poke around at all my stuff. He pats me down, but does it really aggressively and I walk in feeling a little used. That’s when the smell of Red Bull hits me like an odor cloud rising from a puddle of spilled gasoline. So I order a Red Bull and vodka and hunt for my friends.
I find them, we explore for a minute, searching for a good spot. We end up heading towards a corner on the third floor, passing by a bunch of dark couches. I can see the shadowy outlines of people dry humping, heavy petting, and just hanging out, waiting or whatever. When we get to our spot I can’t see anything on the stage so I look at structural details and at the mess of audience on the floor below. The Weeknd comes out and I miss the beginning of his performance because I’m not paying attention at all. For one or two more songs I stare at the building’s design—the railings, the ceiling, the placement of all the lights. Then I’m like, “I gotta go find a better spot.”
I leave my friends and go down two flights of stairs, ending up on the floor with the real mess. I think I see someone I know, so I (naturally) avoid them by sliding through a gap on the left. I weave back right. Now I am really in the mess, and I’ve got a clear view of Abel on stage. He’s wearing a black winter jacket unzipped, a black XO shirt, and black pants. His hair is pretty long and messy, and when he sings he sometimes reshapes it with his hands. I could picture him eventually going for the Basquiat look.
The Weeknd’s music isn’t made for a large audience. It’s lonely, desperate, and dark. Even when he’s being seductive, there are obvious undertones of pain, like, “Ohhh girl, we’re gonna be all over each other tonight, and I know that you want me. But you shouldn’t want me because I’m juuuuuussstttt no gooood.” It’s the kind of music perfect for an emotionally draining night when you’re at home late night smoking weed alone and feeling bad for yourself. It’s not the kind of music meant for a sing-along.
Yet here I was, deep in the mess, and all around me there are people singing along. Every word.
New York City isn’t an easy crowd. If they don’t like you, they’ll just stare at you, dead still, stone-faced. You’ll say, “Now everybody make some noise,” and they’ll look back at you like, “No, we won’t.” You’ll say, “Put your hands in the air,” and three people will pull out their phones and check their Twitter feed, just to make sure they’re not missing anything really important. The Weeknd’s music isn’t made for a large audience, especially a large New York audience.
Yet here I was, and when Abel said to make some noise, New York City made noise. When he said, “New York City, you make me feel at home,” the crowd made even more noise. By the time he got to “The Morning,” my favorite song of his, the crowd was wrapped around his finger. If dude sneezed into the mic, the entire audience would bless him.
On YouTube, Abel’s voice sometimes sounds pitchy and insecure. That wasn’t the case at this show, and even during his most desperate, vulnerable songs, he exuded confidence. He had a good band backing him up, and the songs sounded as full and dramatic as they do on record. This particular show wasn’t the kind you get lost in, but part of that is because it’s Terminal 5, and you are snapped back into reality by drunk bros from Long Island and fanboys in owl shirts pushing their way towards the front every few minutes.
Walking into Terminal 5, I didn’t expect much out of a live Weeknd show. As I walked out, I picked up a black XO balloon, fumbled with it for 20 minutes while I tried to Instagram it, and realized that I had just been won over. Despite the semen smell, the fanboys, and being groped by the guy at the door, I walked away with a new respect for The Weeknd. Abel Tesfaye and his music may not be made for the stage, but if he can get a crowd of skeptical, repugnant New Yorkers to embrace his dark affair, it’s clear that he’s on his way to bridging the gap between bedroom gloom and life of the party.