From the moment Niall Horan strutted on stage at Jones Beach Theater in Wantagh, New York, on Wednesday, September 12, for one of the final stops of his 81-date Flicker world tour, he exuded charm and confidence. Yes, his 25th birthday was just a few hours away, but that wasn’t the reason behind his infectious attitude. That’s just who he is.
In fact, it seemed Horan did not want to draw attention to his imminent quarter-century milestone, so he was nothing short of embarrassed when his keyboardist, Louis Querelle, led the audience in a surprise “Happy Birthday” sing-along midway through the concert. “Thanks, lads,” the blushing birthday boy said between chuckles. “I hate this s–t!”
The bashfulness didn’t last long, though. Throughout his 90-plus-minute set, Horan remained cool, calm and collected as he performed all 13 tracks from his debut solo album, Flicker. He also tackled reworked versions of “Fool’s Gold” and “Drag Me Down” by his former boy band, One Direction, in addition to covering two iconic rock tunes.
The first, a jazzy take on Billy Joel’s “New York State of Mind” that pandered to the Long Islanders in the crowd, came early on in the setlist. It was captivating and served as a reminder that Horan’s pitch-perfect tone sounds even better live than in studio recordings. Later on, Horan introduced his second cover, a soaring rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” as a “song by one of my favorites of all time.”
Given that Joel and Springsteen are two of the biggest names to come out of the New York metropolitan area, Horan made concertgoers feel right at home. “It’s been a while since I’ve been here,” he mused while looking out into the stands through the misty weather that engulfed the waterfront amphitheater, where he last performed in 2013 with the boys of One Direction. “Some very great memories in here, so thank you for having me back. And hopefully we can create some more this evening.”
And that he did. Horan and his band earned the ear-piercing screams from the thousands of young fans in the audience as the singer-songwriter ran through a polished set that opened with the infectious “On the Loose” and closed with the stadium-ready “Mirrors.” In between, he belted the country-inflected duet “Seeing Blind” with opening act Maren Morris, effortlessly strummed an acoustic guitar, stomped through his funky hit “Slow Hands” and even sat behind a piano for an unreleased number titled “So Long.”
The most intimate moment of the night came when Horan instructed fans to close their eyes and soak in his favorite song, the lovelorn ballad that he named his record and tour after. The venue quickly lit up with iPhone flashlights, but the spotlight (literal and figurative) remained on Horan. In an age where artists rely on theatrics, backup dancers and video interludes, it was refreshing to see just a dude and his guitar. Especially one who is having the time of his life.