A live look at the After Hours Til Dawn concert in Chicago
A live look at the After Hours Til Dawn concert in Chicago

The Weeknd Brings ‘After Hours Til Dawn’ to Chicago: Concert Review

After two years of delays and cancellations, the artist makes his return to the Windy City, and his fans were more than ready.
August 12, 2022
11 mins read

If any group of music fans had to practice patience throughout the ongoing pandemic, it’s The Weeknd’s fanbase — “XO.”

On July 24, The Weeknd brought his blockbuster tour “After Hours Til Dawn” to Soldier Field in Chicago. Although he released a successful fourth studio album, “After Hours,” in March 2020, COVID-19 forced him to reschedule his tour for that summer. After being rescheduled twice more, the “After Hours Tour” was canceled entirely. In October 2021, The Weeknd reassured fans on Twitter that a new tour named “After Hours Til Dawn” was set for summer 2022, opting for stadiums instead of arenas. The announcement followed his first official single since “After Hours,” titled “Take My Breath,” released in July 2021. With this newest release and the promise of more new music on the way, it seemed the new tour would combine his upcoming album with material from “After Hours.”

After two and a half years of delays, pushbacks and cancelations, “After Hours Til Dawn” has finally made its way to the Windy City, and eager “XO” fans — like myself — could not have been happier to at last hear those songs performed.

7:40 p.m. 

After a short walk under Lake Shore Drive and past the bicycle taxi and fan-filled Field Museum parkway, I finally make my way through the security line and inside the stadium. A complimentary LED bracelet has been put on my wrist, courtesy of a man distributing them past the security checkpoint. There’s a certain level of disbelief that I am here and will actually get to see The Weeknd perform, two years after I bought tickets to his 2020 tour.

The stadium made evident that “XO” comprises an array of identities. Split halfway between male and female attendees, the enormous audience is an amassed mix of eclectic backgrounds. No race, gender, age or “type” predominates. Most are dressed in their best all-black attire, which is to be expected as The Weeknd always opts for dark tones himself.

I make my way to my seat on the 300 level of the stadium, past the long lines for beer, nachos and merchandise. As I find my seat and look toward the stage, the thought of “Wow, I finally made it. This is real” runs through my mind. I watch as the second opening act, Kaytranada, finishes his DJ set and leaves the stage for the crew to get ready for The Weeknd. The roofless stadium allows me to gaze up toward the cloud-spotted sky as the sun sets.

The stage features a 3D crumbling city skyline, with a long runway that reaches the end of the field. At the very end of the runway, there’s a small diamond-shaped B-stage.

9:15 p.m.

By now, a large inflatable moon has risen above the B-stage, and it glows red as ominous synth music echoes through the stands. The show is sold out, and most of the 60,000-plus attendees seem to be in their seats. The woman to my left nudges my arm and points out a procession of dark cloaked figures being led out from backstage, onto the floor toward the main stage. A minute later, the lights go dark and a strong bass sound booms out from the speakers. The screen behind that 3D city skyline lights up, appearing as a “dawn” emerging behind the cityscape. The hooded figures, looking something like dementors from “Harry Potter,” filter slowly onto the stage, and The Weeknd himself rises on top of one of the set buildings, wearing a mask to hide his face.

Photo by Avery Heeringa

He opens “After Hours Til Dawn” with the first track on “After Hours,” “Alone Again.” The crowd is buzzing with excitement, and also seems to pinch themselves over finally having The Weeknd in front of them performing. After the first half of “Alone Again,” The Weeknd descends under the stage, before the opening notes of “Gasoline” off “Dawn FM” echo through the speakers while blue and green lights flash through the smoke on the stage. He reappears on stage and jumps with excitement, still masked. Midway through “Gasoline,” he takes his mask off, revealing a beaming smile on his face as he looks out into the crowd.

After a few more songs off of “Dawn FM,” the 2015 hit “The Hills” begins to blast as fire shoots out of the top of the skyline set pieces. This is the first time this evening that the crowd really loses it, and screeches with excitement. The fans’ reactions, as well as the pyrotechnics and The Weeknd’s new vocal runs, make “The Hills” an absolute highlight of the show.

The show continues, as The Weeknd sings hits like “Heartless” and “Starboy.” As the clock strikes 10 p.m., longtime fans are given a treat as the screens flash green, and he sings the title track from his first studio album, “Kiss Land.” This performance marks one of the show’s few shortcomings as he only sings the first half of the song before moving on to the next. This happens frequently, as The Weeknd opts to omit many of his songs’ second verses, skipping to the bridge or final chorus. To be fair, he does end up singing almost 30 songs, but even just singing a couple more songs in full would have made all the difference.

Photo by Avery Heeringa

Where “After Hours Til Dawn” has its shortcoming is the time in between “acts.” The show is not split up into different acts as there are no set or outfit changes (a common practice for female pop stars), and therefore after every couple of songs, the stadium goes dark without any transitional music or lighting; the absence of smoothly flowing transition periods while The Weeknd catches his breath is the only thing that makes the show feel partially incomplete. To his credit, the classic format for a “pop star concert” isn’t necessarily the default for an artist like The Weeknd. The dark periods don’t take away too much from the larger-than-life show.

The Weeknd gives fans another treat as he performs “I Was Never There,” off of his 2018 EP “My Dear Melancholy,” which is speculated to be inspired by his high-profile breakups with model Bella Hadid and singer Selena Gomez. The song was never made into a mainstream single but remains a fan favorite.

Photo by Avery Heeringa

The show shifts to a moment of nostalgia for fans and The Weeknd alike, as he performs fan favorite “The Morning” off his breakout 2011 mix tape, “House of Balloons.” To symbolize how far he’s come from his early days dreaming of stadiums and millions of fans, The Weeknd changes the lyric “Rockin’ with our city like a sold-out show” to “Rockin’ with Chicago like a sold-out show.” The lyric change is especially sentimental as The Weeknd explains that 11 years ago to the day, he played his first live show in Toronto. From playing a 618-capacity show in Toronto to playing for 60,000+ people on the “After Hours Til Dawn” tour, The Weeknd uses the performance to capture his transformation from an enigmatic artist to a global superstar.

Photo by Avery Heeringa

10:50 p.m.

As the show winds down to a close, the No. 1 Billboard hit “Blinding Lights” rumbles through the stadium as Soldier Field gives it its all to celebrate a night that’s taken years to come. Beams of light shoot up into the night sky, stretching endlessly as The Weeknd picks up a bouquet of flowers a fan threw onstage. After a round of ecstatic applause, The Weeknd slowly makes his way from the B-stage to the top of the main stage where he emerged from nearly two hours prior with his cloaked dancers stringing along behind him. He takes one final victorious look back at the packed stadium before walking behind the cityscape set pieces.

The “After Hours Til Dawn” show at Soldier Field is a culmination of two years of patience and 11 years of an ever-developing and growing career for The Weeknd.

Avery Heeringa, Columbia College Chicago

Contributing Writer

Avery Heeringa

Columbia College Chicago

Communication, Minor in Journalism

"Avery Heeringa is a senior at Columbia College Chicago studying Communication and Journalism. He’s passionate about all things music and pop culture related, and enjoys frequenting local record stores when not writing."

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