Review – The Weeknd Constructed and Ruled Over His Own Domain at Mile High

The future is a dark, dystopian disco with a secret techno underground — and The Weeknd holds dominion over its capital city. Thursday night the four-time GRAMMY winner naturalized Denver, granting ticket holders temporary residency inside his own world when the highly-anticipated “After Hours til Dawn Tour” finally visited the Mile High.

Originally announced in February of 2020, the tour was first planned in support of After Hours, which was due for release just one month after the initial tour announcement. But as we all know, that original tour never came to fruition. It was first postponed, then rescheduled. Then, the multi-dimensional artist changed plans yet again, announcing that he was again rescheduling, this time to allow for a change of venue that saw him scale from arenas to stadiums — and after witnessing the symphonic spectacle that he brought to Denver’s own Empower Field, there’s no question that the experience was more than worth the wait.

Fans descend upon the home of the Broncos, congesting the sidewalks and commanding that the traffic on Federal concede to the crowd. An army of stadium staff stopped ticket holders to ensure they got a light-up wristband, leaving fans giggling amongst themselves as they speculated about what the coming evening would have in store. But fans walking through the hallways and into the stadium itself quickly found themselves shocked into momentary silence as they came face-to-face with the smoldering cityscape sitting in the end zone.

Before long, the audience was confronted by blisteringly loud synthesizers, which reverberated off the still mostly empty seats, creating the soundtrack for an intergalactic video game. Opening act Mike Dean started his set with a crashing of sonic waves that shook the stadium with easy rolling beats that normally accompany the opening credits as he tried to ease attendees into the evening. Bass vibrated the seats as smoke drifted over the field, vibrating the very bones of the audience for 30 straight minutes.

The Weeknd, 303 Magazine, Empower Field at Mile High, Roxanna Carrasco

Plenty chose to huddle around bar tops and tables outside the stadium to protect their hearing and find space near bars where they could hear their friends and chat about the excitement in store for the evening ahead. But when Kaytranada took the stage, the irresistible call of funk-inspired grooves and bass heavy beats drew fans into the stadium where they quickly found their seats. The DJ’s relentless energy turned the elevated stage he stood on into his own personal dance club. Kaytranada was out for a good time, and he didn’t care if anyone else was interested in joining or not. But Denver couldn’t resist joining the party and the DJ’s infectious energy built the energy of the stadium with every song, and as more fans found their seats they also found themselves compelled to move along with the beat.

After an explosive disco end to his set, Kaytranada ran toward the back of the stage, disappearing into the replica city and smoke, leaving fans on the edge of exaltation. And as the final echoes of Kaytranada’s set floated out of the stadium and the lights in the arena changed their hue, fans erupted into screams and jumped to their feet, pulling out their camera phones to film the opening notes of a set that wouldn’t begin for another 45 minutes. And while fans could still see the stage crew preparing for the night’s main event, they couldn’t contain their excitement, continuing to leap out of seats with their cameras poised to record anytime music changed or a light flickered.

The Weeknd, Empower Field, 303 Magazine, Roxanna Carrasco Photography

Once the lights finally dimmed and the thundering bass made its way out of the speakers, concertgoers steadied their phones and prepared their cameras for what they could only guess would be a once-in-a-lifetime event. Smoke floated out from under the stage as a swarm of red-clothed dancers swarmed the stage. Then, rising from the wreckage to tower of his crumbling city, The Weeknd made his grand entrance. Greeting the crowd with “Alone Again,” the masked singer started things off slowly with Denver, holding fans captive as he built the energy of music until there seemed nowhere to go but explosion.

And after the bomb went off, there was no turning back. The Weeknd poured on gasoline, fanning the flames and earning the instant adoration of his fans. Hit songs like “Can’t Feel My Face” moved the audience to dance while the artist continued his seduction of the audience with songs like “Often” and “The Hills.”

The Weeknd, Empower Field, 303 Magazine, Roxanna Carrasco photography

The Weeknd continued on without hesitation for 30 straight minutes, vibrating Empower Field with the sheer force of bouncing fans who couldn’t resist the danceable beats or the charismatic artist’s infectious revelry. And when he finally paused to address the crowd, it wasn’t to catch his breath, but rather to rally the crowd further, calling out “Did we just sell out the Bronco stadium?”

The artist conducted audience like a mad orchestra maestro who knows nothing other than the obey the music — and fans moved as he commanded. Continuing to play through his hits, The Weekend briefly slowed things down as he moved into “I Feel It Coming,” but the respite was short lived — lights suddenly filled the stadium as bracelets flickered to light, twinkling around the stadium and immersing them in outer space among the stars.

The Weeknd, Empower Field, 303 Magazine, Roxanna Carrasco photography

But the twinkling lights of bracelets on dancing fans were nothing compared to the spotlights and lasers that danced around the audience while the center stage projected its own spotlight directly up into the sky, serving as a beacon that ensured everyone in Denver knew that something special was happening in the stadium. And The Weekend proved to be the brightest and most enchanting start at the center of his own universe, needing to do nothing more than bask in the moment to elicit cheers from his fans.

And in return for that love, The Weekend gave his fans everything they wanted and more, playing favorite tracks from across his discography. And while many would typically choose to leave a show of this size early to beat traffic, few could pull themselves away. Instead, fans partied in the aisles and at the tops of stairs, edging their way toward the exit but unable to resist the call of the final song of the evening: “Blinding Lights.” And while the mass exodus of an entire stadium descending upon the streets of Denver led to a traffic nightmare, when it was all said and done, The Weeknd had given all of himself to his fans — and the travel delays leaving the stadium were only a minor price to pay.

All photography by Roxanna Carrasco.

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