Globe-trotting superfan Sacha Judd reviews her third Harry Styles show in less than three months. And she might already have tickets to two more.
A friend texts me: “Wait. This is your third Harry Styles concert?” I try to explain that, actually, I had only ever intended to see him in Auckland. And then New York happened. And then I just happened to be in London when he was performing there. “Who are you trying to convince?” she replies. To be honest, I’m not even sure any more.
Harry’s Auckland concert comes at the end of the first leg of his debut solo tour, characterised by small iconic venues and loud iconic suits. Auckland turns out to be neither. Though the promoters originally sold only half of the Spark Arena, demand won out and the full stadium was opened up. The change left early ticket holders complaining about their seats, real challenges with accessibility for fans who’d planned around the smaller concert, and flustered venue staff. But in the end, there’s something incredibly powerful about seeing Harry in his first full arena show.
Even if he is dressed all in black.
For fans, seeing Harry live is like seeing your favourite movie, the one you know almost by heart. Even if you haven’t been lucky enough to attend multiple shows, chances are you’ve agonised over livestreams and YouTube clips. You know every word of every song. You know what he’s going to say; the banter is interchangeable. “I only have ten songs,” he demurs, as he thanks the crowd again for coming. Everyone is delighted all the same.
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At a time when the general mood of 2017 is one of complete exhaustion, there’s something so energising about being in a giant crowd of people having a genuinely good time with an idol who hasn’t let them down yet.
“I didn’t realise he was going to be so likeable,” confides my concert companion, as Harry leads the arena in singing Happy Birthday to a fan in the front row. And that’s at the heart of it, really. He’s ridiculously charming.
Playing guitar for the first half of the set, Harry comes into his own when he puts down the instrument and struts his baby Mick Jagger moves. He teases the build-up to his most recent single: “I don’t know if you know this, but I have a song called ‘Kiwi’.” The crowd loses its collective mind.
It doesn’t matter that no-one knows why it’s called ‘Kiwi’. Harry’s certainly not giving anything away, sweeping aside widespread speculation at the lyrics by releasing an extraordinary music video involving a foodfight, puppies, and children in tiny Gucci suits.
On tour, it’s become a running gag that the audience is never giving it their all during ‘Kiwi’ quite as much as Harry wants them to. In Auckland we get through two attempts before he stops us. “I find myself in a predicament. Here I am, about to sing my song ‘Kiwi’. In a room full of kiwis. And you weren’t loud enough.”
The third, glorious attempt nearly lifts the roof.
Critics have generally received Harry’s solo efforts favourably, with Rolling Stone naming anthemic ‘Sign of the Times’ its song of the year, praising its “reckless ambition”, but there still seems to be an undertone in most concert reviews that Harry’s doing well for a boy bander.
He asks the Auckland crowd how many people came to see him perform with his ‘wonderful friends’ the last time he was here, and the deafening screams reveal the overwhelming number of loyal Directioners supporting this first solo foray. In a Behind the Album documentary earlier this year, Harry talked about his refusal to renounce his boy band past. “I loved it. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for that band. And I don’t feel like I have to apologise for that. I never felt like I was faking it.” Harry takes the fan loyalty in the Spark Arena and just doubles down, performing rocked-up versions of 1D hits ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ and ‘What Makes You Beautiful’.
You get the sense, watching his stripped-down staging and listening to his seventies inspired pop-rock, that Harry is genuinely just making and performing the music that he loves. And having a bloody good time doing it.
In every encore, Harry plays a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’. It’s a cracking performance made all the more remarkable when you learn that years ago Harry baked a carrot cake to give to his idol Stevie Nicks at a concert, and this week in Sydney she was photographed at his show filming his version like a proud mum. Anyone still dismissing his efforts at this point is just missing out.
“They don’t let me do this, if you don’t come out,” he says, thanking the crowd for what seems like the hundredth time. The pact between Harry and his fans is explicit. They love him, they hold him to account, and they couldn’t be more proud. “That’s my baby!” They reply to my tweeted picture of the crowd. “A whole fucking stadium!” “Oh my god.”
Harry bows, blows kisses to every corner of the arena, and leaves his band on stage to really shred through the closing bars of ‘Sign of the Times’. Spilling out into the summer night surrounded by hundreds of fans in floral jumpsuits and wide-legged pants, pink concert sweatshirts and Treat People With Kindness tees, everyone is still on a high, smiling and laughing and enthusing over their favourite moments.
Likely, this is the last time we will get to see Harry in anything resembling an intimate venue. Next year’s tour dates are all full arenas, like the O2 in London and Madison Square Garden in New York. It’s possible I already have tickets to both.
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