Harry Styles live at Coachella: spectacular showman makes a bid for rock god status

In his debut performance at the Californian festival, the British star previewed his new album alongside some big surprises

Ever since Harry Styles made his solo debut in 2017, the former boyband member has been steering himself into the lane of a rock star. On his self-titled debut album, he roared through the whiskey-soaked blues-rock stomp of ‘Kiwi’ and provided a blustery epic in ‘Sign Of The Times’. Two years later, on his second album, ‘Fine Line’, he ventured into Laurel Canyon folk (‘Canyon Moon’) and glam-pop anthems (‘Adore You’). As he tops the bill at Coachella 2022 tonight (April 15), Styles mixes those past efforts with some new experiments and an expert sense of showmanship to make his strongest bid yet for rock god status.

His arrival on stage is signalled by a video of rabbits that starts innocently enough but quickly takes a turn into various members of the animal kingdom getting it on as wedding bells cascade into pretty chimes. When the screens concede to the festival’s cameras, Styles is found standing at the top of a stunning white stage that looks fit for a ‘60s icon’s TV special, moody expression on his face, black feather coat covering a multicoloured sequin catsuit. His dour look doesn’t last long as he launches into his latest single ‘As It Was’, skipping across the stage as merrily as the bright synth melody that courses through the song.

What follows is 80 minutes of festival spectacular that satisfies the casual fan waiting for bangers and the die-hard stan eager for some deeper cuts – and sneak previews of new material. The first album tracks ‘Carolina’ and ‘Woman’ fit the mood of the night, although they do drag the momentum down a little. ‘She’ allows time to indulge in rock fantasies, guitarist Mitch Rowland getting a moment in the spotlight for a noodling solo, while the usually delicate ‘Cherry’ gets beefed up slightly. Even the One Direction hit ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ is given a little makeover – infectious hook intact, but rearranged to hit harder and with more edge than before.

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Aside from ‘As It Was’, two new songs get aired tonight. First, is the folky ‘Boyfriends’, which Styles introduces by declaring: “This is for boyfriends everywhere – fuck you.” It’s a rare moment of stillness from the star during the set, as he gently delivers a song about a troubled relationship where “it gets hard to know what he’s thinking”. Later, he debuts ‘Late Night Talking’, a funk-tinged ‘70s groove longing to make a partner “happy again” that confirms his third album ‘Harry’s House’ will have at least two solid gold bops on it.

To truly make it as a rock god, though, Styles needs an army of famous friends to help him surprise his fans and the ability to deliver memorable stage banter between songs. Luckily, tonight he shows he has both. He brings out Shania Twain to perform ‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’ and ‘You’re Still The One’ for an unpredictable but gloriously fun break from his own material. While his guest is on stage, he explains what she’s taught him over the years, including how to sing and “that men are trash”. Towards the end of the set, he heralds a 12-minute section of dancing that the crowd wrongly assumes as the final 12 minutes of the set. “It’s not over that quick,” he explains. “I may be quick at many things, but this isn’t one of them.”

By the time we do reach the set’s finale – a stunning version of ‘Sign Of The Times’ complete with fireworks – Styles’ job is done. He’s grooved and guitar hero-ed over every inch of the stage, turned pop anthems into rock juggernauts and had the crowd in the palm of his hand for every second of his dazzling show. As he belts out the final notes of the track, it’s clear that he’s no longer aiming for the rock star lane, but is firmly blazing his own path through it.

Harry Styles played: 

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‘As It Was’
‘Adore You’
‘Golden’
‘Carolina’
‘Woman’
‘Boyfriends’
‘Cherry’
‘Lights Up’
‘She’
‘Canyon Moon’
‘Treat People With Kindness’
‘What Makes You Beautiful’
‘Man! I Feel Like A Woman’
‘You’re Still The One’
‘Late Night Talking’
‘Watermelon Sugar’
‘Kiwi’
‘Sign Of The Times’

Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Coachella 2022. 

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