Harry Styles just might be the most joyous person on the planet. For his second sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden in New York City on Friday, June 22, he effortlessly commanded the stage with more presence and charm than some artists who are double his age and have twice the experience. Clad in a custom blue Calvin Klein suit, Styles rarely stopped smiling during his 90-plus-minute set as he ran through all 10 tracks from his superb self-titled solo debut (which Us Weekly named the best album of 2017) in addition to one megahit and two deep cuts by his former boy band, One Direction. The setlist also included a rock version of Ariana Grande’s “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart,” which Styles cowrote, as well as a rousing cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” two unreleased numbers and a surprise duet with his opening act, Kacey Musgraves.
Of course, the 23-year-old is no stranger to performing for tens of thousands of fans, many of them screaming teenage girls — and boy, were there plenty in attendance on Friday. During his five years with 1D, Styles’ effervescent spirit was contagious and helped his bandmates Liam Payne, Louis Tomlinson and Niall Horan come alive on stage. Hell, he even made the self-described introvert Zayn Malik (who abruptly exited the group in 2015) crack a smile here and there. These days, Styles continues to light up the room. The only thing that has changed is that his shows are more stripped back now. On his current tour, which runs until July 14, he has been performing in arenas that house less than 20,000 people, rather than the stadiums that 1D booked for upwards of 80,000 fans. The production this time around is fairly simple, and there are no costume changes, video interludes or intermissions. But the intimacy suits him.
Styles interacted with audience members numerous times during his MSG gig. As he has done at just about every concert this year, he borrowed a rainbow flag from a fan during an updated take on the 1D classic “What Makes You Beautiful” and sashayed across the stage while holding it in the air. (The Big Apple just so happens to be celebrating Pride this weekend.) Later on, he called out one woman who brought along a sign that read, “I’m with child.” It turned out that she wasn’t actually pregnant — at least not yet. “You’re trying? Well, we’re all trying. I don’t know if that permits a sign,” Styles shot back with a laugh. When another concertgoer asked about his favorite Britney Spears song, he hesitated for a second. “I find the Britney Spears back catalog to be much like the city of New York,” he replied. “There’s just too many good things to choose one.” Eventually, he settled on “Toxic.”
A true modern-day rock star, the singer-songwriter exuded confidence from the time he strutted on stage for the opening number, “Only Angel,” until he closed out the show with the rollicking “Kiwi,” which had the floor of the arena shaking as fans belted the lyrics and jumped up and down for three minutes straight. Throughout the evening, he often switched up the melodies of his own songs. And at times, he sounded even better live than on his album, in part due to the raw emotion he exhibited on folky tracks such as “Two Ghosts” and “From the Dining Table.” Two of the crowd’s clear favorites were 1D’s “Stockholm Syndrome” and the unreleased “Medicine.” Thanks to YouTube and social media, fans already knew every word to the latter, which Styles debuted during a European concert in March alongside “Anna,” another upbeat tune that had been cut from his record’s final tracklist.
The most tender moment came at the midpoint when Styles shuffled off the main stage and was escorted through the crowd (with his security team in tow) to a much smaller, blink-and-you-miss-it platform on the opposite end of the venue. He collected at least 10 bouquets of flowers from admirers along the way before tossing them over to members of his team. Once he hit the B-stage, surrounded by fans at every angle, he pulled out an acoustic guitar and serenaded everyone with his beautiful ballad “Sweet Creature” followed by the 1D fan favorite “If I Could Fly.” Another highlight came moments later when he performed his soaring lead solo single, “Sign of the Times,” back on the main stage as the audience lit up the Garden using the flashlights on their smartphones.
“Outside in the world, there is a lot of bad stuff that happens, and I could not be more honored to get to play in front of you wonderful, wonderful people for an hour and a half every single night,” he said. “[There is] just pure joy in this room, and I thank you for that because you absolutely changed my life and I couldn’t do it without you. I do it only for you. I love each and every single one of you.”
The showstopper came just before the encore when Styles welcomed Musgraves, 29, back to the stage for a duet. “We’re gonna sing one of my personal favorites, and if you know the words, please do join us,” he requested before kicking off a stunning acoustic rendition of Shania Twain’s “You’re Still the One,” which they had never performed together before. The two artists, both of whom are ardent fans of the country superstar, showcased their vocal prowesses while trading verses before uniting on the dreamy chorus, making it one of the biggest treats of the night.
In the final minutes of the show, Styles made it a point to introduce his bassist Adam Prendergast, keyboardist Clare Uchima, drummer Sarah Jones and guitarist Mitch Rowland before thanking the boisterous crowd for supporting him and his new band. “I will gladly play this room anytime if you’ll have me back,” he declared. Until next time, Mr. Styles.
3.5 stars (out of 4)