Superstar The Weeknd captivates the United Center with staging and songs

The Weeknd brought his tour, "The Madness," to the United Center. (Ariana LaBarrie/Medill)

By Ariana LaBarrie

The Weeknd was back in Chicago with “The Madness” tour at the United Center on Nov. 6. The concert also featured opening acts Travis Scott and Banks.

The tour features The Weeknd’s latest album “The Beauty Behind The Madness,” which debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 chart at its Aug. 28 release and spent three consecutive weeks in this position.

His show was a sensory experience with visuals and sounds, engaging the audience from beginning to end.

The concert clicked in the visual appeal from the start.  While many opening acts have no set designs, paying their dues by performing on a bare stage, both Travis Scott and Banks set the mood with impressive, intricate set designs.

Travis Scott’s set design followed the same theme as his 2015 album  “Rodeo,” with cactus, wooden barrels and wheels and a background screen of mountains to give the stage the feeling of the West. Banks set matched her witchy aesthetic with fog and white strobe lights.

Scott hyped the crowd for the upcoming acts by performing songs from his “Rodeo” album like ”Pornography” and “Pray 4 Love.” He got the crowd on their feet, excited for all of the performances of the night.  However, he did leave a sour taste in fans mouth who came to see him, showing up 15 minutes late for his 30 minute set.

“I came a little late, so they are going to try to cut me off,” Scott said.

This is not Scott’s first time being tardy for his set time.  He was also late for his set at this year’s Lollapalooza.

Banks, who toured with The Weeknd for his 2013 “The Fall” tour, took command of the stage. She came out, wearing all black and strutted slowly around the stage while opening with “Alibi,” the same song that opens her debut album, “Goddess” from 2014. By the third verse of the song she stood center stage, staring straight at the crowd while raising her hands slowly up and down, as if she was casting a spell.  She captivated the crowd who could not keep their eyes off her during the rest of her set that included “This is What it Feels Like” and “Brain.”

Even though many of her songs are about heartbreak and feeling helpless and confused in a relationship, Banks entertained with complete control on stage, breaking through the fog that was apart of her set and standing strong.

After the two opening acts, it was time for the main event. The lights went black and came up again, the Weekend appeared on stage behind a series of mesh screens, similar to a cage. The typically reclusive and camera shy R&B singer leaped to life on-stage with “Real Life,” the opening track on his Billboard number one album “Beauty Behind The Madness.” He seemed to hide behind the mesh of a backdrop until the secret was revealed mid-song. The mesh is a video screen that allows graphics to appear in front of him, adding visual drama to each song he performed. For instance, when he performed “The Birds (Part I)” the screens was filled with white birds flapping their wings furiously, matching the intense energy of the lyrics.

The screens were an innovation since his headlining act at this year’s Lollapalooza.

But The Weeknd didn’t stay behind the screens for all of the show. A stage platform rose while the crowd looked on in awe as he appeared d above the screen. He looked like a king reveling in his kingdom. The large crowd of fans showed their support wearing The Weeknd t-shirts and tour shirts from his previous three tours.

During the songs “Crew Love” and “The Hills,” fire exploded on the stage to the audience’s excitement. The fire seemed to emphasize the massive effect these songs have had on his career.  “Crew Love” is the song featuring him with celebrity r artist Drake’s from Drake’s 2011 album “Take Care.” That introduced The Weeknd to a larger audience. His song “The Hills” recently hit number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and stayed there for five weeks. The crowd screamed in excitement, singing along to every word when he sang it.

The Weeknd earned audience attention by playing his entire repertoire of songs from his 2011 mix tapes to performing every song off the album “Beauty Behind The Madness.”  The dance lessons that he mentioned taking in his October 2015 ”Rolling Stone” interview payed off. He grooved and danced along to his upbeat songs like “Can’t Feel My Face.” The highlight of his show was his mash-up of Michael Jackson’s ”Dirty Diana,” which he covered on his mixtape “Echoes of Silence, ” and “In The Night,” the latest single that is influenced by Jackson’s sound.

Although The Weeknd’s the set design and performance made for an incredible show, he did not seem totally connected to the audience.

He didn’t speak a lot to the audience. And when he did, he kept to simple stock statements, like when he shouted to the crowd “This is the biggest party in the city!”

He let the music speak for him, but the audience would have enjoyed hearing him talk about the inspirations behind the songs. Although the Weeknd has had a big year with his Billboard number one album and two number one Billboard Hot 100 singles, he said there is more to come.

“I think it’s safe to say this has been a great year for xo,” said The Weeknd, referring to his label and crew name “xo.” ”Next year is very special too, but I don’t want to give no secrets away.”

He ended the concert with an encore, performing “Wicked Games” to the packed stadium. He bowed down to his fans and showed his gratitude. The Weeknd couldn’t be in the mega star position without them.

Photo at top: The Weeknd brought his tour, “The Madness,” to the United Center. (Ariana LaBarrie/Medill)