What you took away from Harry Styles’ first solo concert at Auckland’s Spark Arena last night would very much depend on the expectations you took into the show. If you were a young woman who wanted to spend some quality time with Harry, and maybe scream, loudly, for a while, then you would have been very satisfied. If you were looking for a fulfilling musical experience, then your experience would have been a tad less rewarding.
Styles, dressed in a rather unremarkable black suit — perhaps the only disappointment to the screaming hordes whose shrieking and howling at times actually managed to drown out the sound from the arena’s PA; so far on this tour he’s made a point of wearing ever more outré fashions on stage — was understandably apologetic for only having ten songs to sing, his main set clocking in at a little under an hour. He played all of his solo album, an interesting offering that tries, at moments successfully, to project Styles as a mature performer in his own right while still keeping his One Direction-period fans happy. So for every Woman or Sweet Creature, a song which sounded better when the Beatles called it Blackbird, the slow numbers that saw phone torches fired up and waved, there was a Kiwi or Only Angel, Styles suggesting that perhaps he’d rather rock out than croon.
The upbeat numbers were what made last night’s show. Styles played with a four-piece backing band, Spark Arena’s stage smaller than it often is, the overall effect one of a singer who’d like to be playing smaller, more intimate venues, but whose pulling power is such that management are putting him in arenas. And he genuinely seemed to be having fun as his band, driven by drummer Sarah Jones and bassist Adam Prendergast, punched through the faster songs. He’s still a very young, and, if we’re being honest, immature performer, but, at 23, he is still quite clearly learning his stagecraft. Over the next several years it will be interesting to see how Styles develops — the tension between his more boyband-focused fanbase and his apparent desire to push toward a rather seventies-oriented, glam-rock-inflected will drive future musical directions, last night’s show suggesting that the latter might be his personal preference.
In the meantime, his choices of songs to pad out his set gave an indication of where he might go. While a couple of One Direction numbers — That’s What Makes You Beautiful was, to nobody’s surprise, a monstrous crowd-pleaser — and Just a Little Bit of Your Heart, which Styles wrote for Arianna Grande along with Johan Carlsson kept his teenage-girl fanbase happy, the profoundly less obvious addition of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain to his encore hints at a richer, more sophisticated musical hinterland.
In the meantime, what we have is a young man with an enormous teenage-girl following who played an entirely agreeable hour-and-a-quarter to an arena full of girls and young women who, let’s be blunt, didn’t actually hear an awful lot of what was being played by the singer and his band that they’d paid to come to see, and heard much more of each other’s screaming. Hardcore Harry fans — of whom there was no shortage last night — left very, very happy. Those of us who were less rabid in our loyalty to Styles were still reasonably impressed.