(Photo Credit: Kyle Garcia)

’The Weeknd – Pretty’
’BANKS – Change (Prod. By Tim Anderson)’
’Anna Lunoe – Breathe’

3 artists. 2 nights. 7,200 minds blown. That would be the simplest way to sum up my experience in Kiss Land. With a lineup featuring The Weeknd, BANKS, and Anna Lunoe, I was understandably excited the whole day leading up to the event. The first thing that popped into my head as I strolled up to the venue and read the names on the glowing marquee, was that this felt all too surreal. Two years ago, I could’ve never imagined that my first show at the legendary Chicago Theatre would be by The Weeknd. Not only that, but the fact that he was headlining two sold-out back-to-back nights was a true testament to how far he’s come in such a short period.

Walking in, you could immediately feel the energy in the air. There’s always excitement before any show, but this night just felt different in many ways. Maybe it was because of all the weed smoke, maybe it was the crowded space in The Chicago Theatre lobby, or maybe everyone was just as curious about what to expect as I was. Luckily, we had Anna Lunoe to help carry us through each painfully slow minute that ticked by. While I personally didn’t know much about Lunoe coming into the show, I was pleasantly surprised by her set. She’s not your traditional DJ by any means, and her music certainly reflected that, as she was able to get the crowd pumped up with a unique mix of tracks that varied wildly between Cashmere Cat, Lil B, and even some of her own material.


After Lunoe finished warming up the audience, the lights dimmed and the spotlight fell on a single mic, signaling that it was time for BANKS to take the stage. Not much later, the eerie intro for “This Is What It Feels Like” began to trickle out of the speakers, as the seductive songstress glided up to the center to grab hold of the microphone. One thing that I noticed during her performance was that BANKS was far more active on stage than I would’ve anticipated, bouncing along to the beat of the music and slithering around the stage gracefully. Her performance was nearly flawless; there was almost no discernible difference between her live rendition and her studio recordings. Another aspect that amazed me about her approach, was that despite the large venue, it still felt like an intimate setting.

She continued her set by singing her breakout hit “Before I Ever Met You,” followed by “Changes,” her most recent single from her new London EP. While both of those songs were just as impressive as the first, her performance of “Fall Over” was what really blew me away, as she was finally able to put her full vocal range on display. The most powerful moment of her act though, came during a surprising cover of Lauryn Hill‘s “Ex-Factor.” Taking a minimalist approach, BANKS and her band were able to cut to the core of the track, compelling the audience to hang onto every single note. I would be amiss not to highlight her performance of “Warm Water,” especially given that it’s a favorite of ours here at TMN. As the stage lights turned blue, it turned out to be a perfect comedown from the previous number, allowing the audience to unwind as she neared the conclusion of her set. It didn’t take long for things to pick back up however, as BANKS took command of the stage during her final setpiece, “Waiting Game,” which featured her nodding her head like a true rockstar.

Having BANKS open for The Weeknd creates an interesting dynamic, because her career in many ways already mirrors his own. While not fully comparable, The Weeknd and BANKS have walked similar career paths so far, as two supremely talented vocalists who emerged mysteriously through the internet, banking on the sound of dusky, angst fueled melodies. While one is currently on a trajectory towards stardom, the other has already walked that path and achieved it.


When Lunoe returned to the stage, I began my preparation for the main event, with still no clue at all what to expect. Considering that The Weeknd’s music is so brooding, isolated, and deeply personal in nature, it seemed more appropriate to listen to alone at home rather than in a concert hall packed with 3,600 screaming fans. I had a tough time picturing how exactly it would translate to the live stage, but I had faith that I’d be in for a great show.

As the room fell dark, an ominous floating head appeared hovering in front of the crowd, belting out the intro to “Adaptation.” The mysterious figure was soon replaced by the shadowy outline of The Weeknd, surrounded by a cylindrical curtain, as the spotlight beamed down on him. The crowd erupted in raucous applause as soon as he hit the very first note, a sea of cell phones springing up amongst the crowd to document the experience. “Adaptation” proved to be a perfect initiation into Kiss Land, as Abel put together a captivating performance right from the start, even showcasing some surprising dance moves. After welcoming the crowd to Kiss Land, Abel continued the show with a chilling rendition of the deeply haunting and visceral “Love in the Sky.” One thing that stood out to me almost right away was his confidence on stage. His personality really shone through as he smiled at the crowd, blew them kisses, and altogether had a genuinely fun time.

Although the show was already off to a smooth start, the real kickoff point came during his next piece, “Belong To The World.” The Weeknd pulled out all the stops for the bombastic, Portishead sampling anthem, bringing a level of energy to the show I could’ve never imagined. The stage lit up for the very  first time, with flashing neon Japanese signs meant to mimic downtown Tokyo occupying the screens behind him (along with some more graphic images). It’s at this point I realized that he was really trying to create an immersive experience here; Kiss Land isn’t just an album title, but a destination meant to be explored, with Abel as the main tour guide. Following a fairly frenetic affair that featured The Weeknd parading around stage and embellishing his inner rockstar, Abel decided to pull the reins in a bit, continuing on with another Kiss Land hit, “The Town.” The next track in the lineup fell more in line with what I initially expected from the show, as the lights faded and Abel transitioned into the popular slowjam, “What You Need.” This also represented the first mashup of the night as the song seamlessly blended together with one of my favorite tracks from his recent album, “Professional.” Of all the Kiss Land cuts he performed, this one seemed to undergo the largest live transformation, with an added pizazz (can’t believe I’m using that word) that doesn’t quite shine through in the recorded material. If I thought I couldn’t love that song anymore than I did, I was dead wrong. 


Once he wrapped up the fifth number of his set, Abel paused to tell us all a little story. He detailed his rise from a mysterious internet enigma to the chart-topping star he is now. In that discussion, he recounted how for 21 years, he had never once traveled outside of his little bubble in Toronto, but finally gathered up the courage to venture out of the country up north to come to Chicago on his first tour. Starting from dusty clubs two years ago, to now packing The Chicago Theatre on back-to-back nights, The Weeknd felt a debt of gratitude to his fans, and showed us all a side of him we’d never seen before. Additionally, he mentioned how this all started from one little mixtape called House of Balloons, and went on to proclaim, “Even though this is the Kiss Land tour, we’ll be playing the motherfucking classics tonight,” which was welcomed with deafening cheers as soon as he began to play the title track from that project.

It was at this point the crowd really got involved with the show, presumably because they were all more familiar with this material. “House of Balloons” soon developed into to a pretty rad remix of “Glass Table Girls,” with The Weeknd’s drummer, Ricky, playing a central role in the rocked out revamp. Two of the most memorable performances of the night soon followed, as The Weeknd proceeded to play a few of my favorites from his debut project, “Loft Music” and “The Morning.” The Weeknd doesn’t have very many peaceful songs in his repertoire, which is why these warm, euphoric R&B ballads really stood out from the rest. These were then followed by stellar renditions of “Remember You” and “The Zone” (from his Thursday mixtape). Eventually, we made it to possibly the most anticipated anthem of the night, Tesfaye’s breakout hit, “High For This.” It seemed like there wasn’t a soul in the crowd who wasn’t singing along to that number, with their arms bouncing up and down to the rhythm (well,  maybe not the people blowing smoke in the air.) The Weeknd concluded the House of Balloons segment fittingly by playing “The Party & The Afterparty,” which closed that chapter off on a rather mellow note. With the House of Balloons portion of the set, we got see The Weeknd the same way many of us were introduced to him. His performance felt raw, emotional, evocative, and exposed.  

Before we even knew it, we were sucked back into Kiss Land, as Abel began performing the album’s title track in front of some rather risque visuals (I won’t divulge too many details it was Japanese porn, but look up some YouTube videos if you’re feeling adventurous). The second mashup of the night paired together a coupling of some pretty high octane Drake collaborations, “Live For” and “Crew Love.” The crowd got especially hyped up with the spectacular high-powered presentation of “Crew Love,” which had everybody up off their feet. We caught another break as Abel expressed his desire to dedicate his next song to the entire audience. Turning to the cameras on stage, his face beamed brightly on the assortment of screens, as all his fans got a chance to observe a close up while he serenaded us all with “Pretty.” His vocals were crisp and sharp, with an added soothingness to them that can’t be replicated in the studio version of the single. Wanting to end things on a high note, Abel livened things up with one of his most unique singles to date, the wonderfully dark power pop ballad, “Wanderlust.” Now I never got to see Michael Jackson live, but I have a strong feeling he’d be proud of The Weeknd’s performance of “Wanderlust,” which clearly draws its influences from the King of Pop.


Just as the stage fell dark and The Weeknd seemed to vanish from the stage, chants of “one more song” of course began to pulse through the crowd. In cliché fashion, Abel obviously obliged, returning to the stage for an encore. Urging everyone to put their lighters up (another cliché) he concluded his set with a phenomenal rendition of another personal favorite of mine (I have a lot of them), “Wicked Games.”

One thing that became abundantly clear throughout the night was that Kiss Land was far better designed for this kind of show, especially considering that it’s much more theatrical in nature. At one point during the act, Abel told us that Kiss Land was the name of the journal he kept to chronicle his experiences during his first big tour. It seems to me that the lessons he learned during his previous endeavors helped shape the sonic qualities of his new album. If you weren’t a huge fan of Kiss Land, it’s because you need the live experience to truly appreciate the album’s qualities. I don’t usually like to make blanket statements, but I can say this has held true at basically every concert I’ve been to. Live instrumentation trumps everything. There’s a beauty and elegance to seeing a live band, especially with music heavily produced in the studio, like R&B and rap. In fact, I might go as far as to say that’s how all love music should be. You go to a concert of course to hear the music you love, but you also go to have a different experience than you would while listening to it through your headphones. That’s the real differentiator here. The Weeknd’s been to Chicago every year since 2011, and given the pattern we’ve seen so far, it’s not too farfetched to think the next time we’ll see him, it’ll be in a stadium packed full of even more screaming fans.

Check out the setlist for the entire concert below, along with a few photos on our official Facebook page. Although the North American tour dates have all concluded on the Kiss Land fall tour, fans in the UK will still be able to catch Anna Lunoe, BANKS & The Weeknd at the tail end of November.

BANKS Set List:
1. This Is What It Feels Like
2. Before I Ever Met You
3. Change
4. Fall Over
5. Ex-Factor (Lauryn Hill Cover)
6. Warm Water
7. Waiting Game

The Weeknd Set List:
1. Adaptation
2. Love in the Sky
3. Belong to the World
4. The Town
5. What You Need
6. Professional
7. House of Balloons / Glass Table Girls
8. Loft Music
9. The Morning
10. Remember You
11. The Zone
12. High for This
13. The Party & The After Party
14. Kiss Land
15. Live For
16. Crew Love
17. Pretty
18. Wanderlust
19. Wicked Games (Encore)


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