Former One Direction heartthrob, current solo heartthrob, Harry Styles has the look, the feel, the smell, the body sense, everything except, more or less, the attitude and songs of, a rock and roll god. Always the most popular and cutest 1D on the market, if he had followed Zayn Malik into the realm of electronic pop he’d have hit it bigger and while, yes, absolutely he is the best selling solo 1D, that doesn’t make him as big as 1D. On Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, the difference was infinitesimal.
The market for classic rock, for Fleetwood Mac style, guitar based pop, has receded dramatically and after country singer Kacey Musgraves somewhat miscast 45 minute set, we were treated to an additional 45 minutes of classic rock with “Bohemian Rhapsody” getting a rousing response from the girls in the stalls, Van Morrison “Cyprus Avenue” being resolutely ignored, and proof that 1D fans have more fun, “Olivia” with its brilliant shoulda been a contender “Oh I love you, I love you, I love, I love, I love Olivia” hook bringing MSG to its knees BEFORE THE SET HAD EVEN STARTED. Harry co-wrote the song (it is off 2015’s Made In The A.M.) and the bubblegum hits the sweet spot. Around the midway point of Harry’s set he performed a new song, his best hard rocker to date, “Medicine” which, apparently, everybody in the world knows except me but was HS in excelsior rockgoding and where the attitude seem to come close.
This is the second time I’ve seen Harry solo in something like nine months (my Radio City Music Hall review is here), that first time was best at least in that there was the thrill of the new, but Thursday’s show was livelier and while in September 2017 we got “Story Of My Life” (that and “Olivia” are begging to be added to the set), “Stockholm Syndrome” was a classic piece of headbanging, rabble rousing 20something touch up. In a Gucci suit with chequers, he treated his set like a fashion palate where he refuses to act self-consciously, and responds to his fans sweetly, who he gently kids like an emotional Rubik’s Cube that he is attempting to align right. The thing is, as Jesus Christ proved years ago, we don’t want our gods to be human, we want our gods to be gods. Harry does a little Hugh Grant in his attitude on stage, he is deprecating when he needs to be consciously putting his will upon the audience. The result is that two sold out nights at MSG had nosebleeds on sale on Stubhub for $15: he isn’t widening his scope.
Thursday he performed his entire debut album as well as three One Direction songs, the song he wrote for Ariana Grande, his Fleetwood Mac cover (and look what happened to Lindsey Buckingham, the ungrateful wretches), and two newbies, the nothing special “Anna” and the smarter than the average rocker “Medicine”. Backed by a four piece rock ensemble, the performances were flawless, it was rock as 2018 template, and Harry sang his lungs out. He can’t dance but he can move and when the mood takes him, he can give right into the song. He strums rather than plays guitar (his lead guitarist is a very good one, who seems to be doing everything at once) and uses it as a prop… but then that’s what he should do (pace: Mick Jagger singing “Miss You”). But he doesn’t command the stage the way Mick (surely the antecedent at least physically) though if that bothered the audience screaming during “If I Could Fly” “I feel it, I feel it” on the top of their voices during the short acoustic portion on a stage b, you coulda fooled me. On Friday night, he invited Kacey on stage to cover Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One”.
I went to dinner with my friend for knocking on 30 years Mary Cannon, and five of her girlfriends, the rest were 20 somethings and Mary told a tale of one of the women shaking with excitement when Mary got her tickets to see 1D at Jingle Ball years ago. Today she is a self assured young lady and the excitement and glow before the concert wasn’t what it was ten years ago. I didn’t sit with the women during the set but the people who I did note were teens to 20s and after the show many parents were outside waiting for them. I did note they were losing their minds and I wonder if there was an equal release, a willingness to release their inner fangirl, to give into their crush. It is difficult because Harry isn’t great at talking to us, he improvises conversations with the audience during a singalong to Happy Birthday, but for the most part there is a canned sublimation of appreciation that may be real and fake at the same time. “Why are you crying?” he asks a girl on the floor “‘I’m just emotional'” he mimics, as though he refuses to admit the effect he is having on her.
While admitting that I am far from his target audience, I appreciated Harry’s fast paced, well performed set, skillfully adapting himself to his future and treating everybody around him, even his roadies, with the utmost respect attitude. I appreciate that it gave everybody precisely what they wanted and I’ll end this review the same way I ended the last one: One of Style’s tee shirts reads “Treat People Kindly”: Styles practices what he preaches, and that, in fact, is what makes him beautiful.
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