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Harry Styles “Love On Tour” At Madison Square Garden, Sunday, October 3rd, 2021, Reviewed

Harry At MSG

“My job is to entertain you, yours is to go crazy…” Eleven years after a sixteen year old Harry Styles lost the UK’s “The X Factor” and, at Simon Cowell’s instigation, formed One Direction and quit his job at a bakery, he is a superstar. Harry’s teenage girl fans are now in their early twenties -all college kids and first jobs, were as insanely creative and noisy as they ever were. On the third time I’ve seen Harry live solo, he was a better performer but the material was a little weaker. His self-confidence was in the extreme, friendliness over and above, and skills as a lead singer reminiscent of a man he has been known to impersonate on SNL, Mick Jagger great. No, no songs here are up to the Glimmer Twins, but as far as straight out charm offensive Harry was better than the last time I did see the Stones in 2019 though not in 2016.

Begging an answer to the musical question, why didn’t New York City rebuild Madison Square Garden’s entrance to fit into the new Penn Station a year ago, it was a bummer going into the iconic entrance through a shantytown, a not untypical piece of stupidity mirrored in the constant weekend disruptions to fix lights and rails on the subway system that could’ve been done far easier during the heart of the pandemic… Though once you found the entrance it was pretty smooth sailing.

Harry in shanty town

Lines for merchandise wrapped around itself, and the show started on time with a fine set by Jenny Lewis. Jenny knew what the gig was, try not to be ignored for forty minutes. Aided by Harry’s team sharing the close circuit TV, and Jenny’s decision to hold off her arty stuff for a series of hits in your pleasure zone , not just the Rilo Kiley era “Silver Lining” but a constant upping the ante till the penultimate number, “See Fernando” that revealed itself as an anthem for the ages and a huge winner for her. A coupla years ago I saw Jenny opening for Beck and on a bummer evening she remained her poised self. Last night, she proved she knows how to play arenas…. though when you’ve written “Arms Outstretched” there is no excuse not to perform it every single chance you get.

Harry Styles may not be the artist people claim he is (the increasingly weird Rolling Stone dubbed his second album Fine Line in the Top 500 albums of all time -the mind boggles) but he is increasingly the entertainer he is. One good thing about the pandemic postponing this concert from July 2020 is that it gave the women the opportunity to con every last word, and con it they did. The singing was nonstop from the beginning to the end, if it had been back in the Beatles age of touring you’d have been unable to hear a word he sang. As it was, his request to have us wear masks wasn’t heard by me for the screaming though it explains why everybody put on their masks…

the little girls understood

So with all these people knowing the material backwards, he didn’t have to lean on 1D whereas at Radio City Music Hall, nearly exactly four years ago (here), we got three 1D songs last night we only got, an admittedly dynamic, “What Makes You Beautiful”. Even his eponymous solo debut only had four entries, and perhaps his biggest mistake was dumping “Two Ghosts” and “Meet Me In The Hallway”.

Harry from a distance

But that is in the nature of nitpicking, dressed in “a custom-made Gucci leather single-breasted suit, which he wore sans shirt” with hairy arms and it wasn’t double breasted and wasn’t a vest though the jacket was wide open to show a giant butterfly covering his chest. It was rock star cool, though for sure Harry wasn’t, as he was charming, friendly, a terrific dancer: it’s a real rare gift to be both god and everyman, and Styles has it. Dancing in the round (“Sometimes you’ll see my face, sometimes my bum”), about the halfway mark he exploded with “Lights Up,” his best song on Fine Line “Canyon Moon” and a show stopping “Treat People With Kindness” unfurling both a LGBTQ rainbow and a Black Lives Matter flag, as he ran around the circle in a square mid-auditorium stage. His dancing during “Lights Up” was thrilling and his rapport with his lead guitarist self-evident.

Hairy arms is back

Truthfully, it was a night out for the girls with the only weak spot some of the songs, which Styles still managed to sell loud and hard. Harry has made it through the 2010s to emerge as a major celebrity, heartthrob and rock royalty. Everybody loves Harry, he is a class act with a whole swooning lot of female friends and fans (his current amour is Hollywood actress Olivia Wilde -and if you want controversy, she is ten years older than Styles so that will have to suffice). Unlike his bandmates in One Direction (especially Zayn Malik, who always hit me as the most purely gifted), he has grown up with all his boyish charm in tact, and he was the hottest and gentlest of representatives of classic rock for post-teen girls. For many in the audience, this was their first pandemic show and it was a fine performance, with the song before the very end “Watermelon High” a sexual bargaining from the carnal to the carnal. To Harry.

Grade: B+

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