When describing the content of his second solo album ‘Fine Line’, Harry Styles shared that it was “all about having sex and feeling sad”. From that assessment, you might expect his secret show at London’s 1500-capacity Electric Ballroom – tiny by his standards – to replicate the aftermath of a break-up, one where your emotions swing wildly between horny and teary as your heart is pulled between moving on and pining over your ex.
That couldn’t be further from the case. There’s rarely a moment of tonight’s gig that he doesn’t radiate pure joy, blowing kisses to the audience between songs and unselfconsciously swooping and grooving around the stage. “We have one job tonight – to entertain you,” he tells the audience after the opening gleaming guitar rush of ‘Golden’, sweeping an arm behind him to include his band in that mission. “You have one job – to have as much fun as possible.”
Fulfilling our role is easy when Styles is on such jubilant form. He and his band play ‘Fine Line’ in its entirety, delivering an ecstatic version of the brass-infused ‘Watermelon Sugar’, dialling things back for the pretty fingerpicked lilt of ‘Cherry’, and sending a hush over the room for the piano-led pain-letting of ‘Falling’. The latter is the emotional peak of the night, Styles’ voice soaring with sorrow as he describes an internal battle with insecurity. It’s a tender and important moment, but one that he doesn’t let linger for long.
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“Are you not entertained?” he hollers, oozing showmanship, after ‘Sunflower Vol. 6’. As its Paul Simon swagger comes to an end, Styles delivers a sincere speech thanking the various people who had an influence on the album, concluding with his fans, of course. “You have changed my life in more ways than you can imagine,” he tells them. A curl of hair that’s fallen out of place hangs across his forehead and bobs as he nods his head in gratitude.
He wraps up the main set with ‘Fine Line’’s title track – somewhere between Bon Iver and ‘Given To The Wild’ era Maccabees – and some confusing banter about bringing a Kindle to the show before disappearing for the traditional encore break. Where most artists use this natural stop-gap to create a new build of anticipation, testing the audience’s patience with a prolonged absence, Styles is gone for what feels like barely a minute, clearly as eager as those he’s playing for to continue the festivities.
With the business of celebrating the new album taken care of, the encore serves as a chance for him to really let loose and share a taste of the Harry Styles jukebox with us. It’s bookended with older solo songs – first the blustery epic ‘Sign Of The Times’, last the rock strut of ‘Kiwi’ – and stuffed with surprises in the middle. That includes a rockier version of One Direction’s ‘What Makes You Beautiful’, a sublime cover of Lizzo’s ‘Juice’ (including Styles flawlessly purring: “Somebody come get your man / I think he got lost in my DMs”), and an appearance by Stormzy for ‘Vossi Bop’.
During the latter, Styles lets the grime MC take the spotlight, but he’s there by his side rapping and dancing. It’s a significant show of solidarity. Both stars are in the race for the Number One after releasing their albums on the same day – and they take a moment before Stormzy exits the stage to show their respect for each other. “You’re not just a pop star, you’re a brilliant artist,” the rapper tells Styles, who tells the crowd: “A lot of the time in music, people try to pit people against one another but we’re trying to lift each other up.”
It being the week before Christmas, it’s basically the law that all gigs must include a festive nod. Styles gives us his in the form of a cover of Paul McCartney’s ‘Wonderful Christmastime’. It’s a fitting choice. There are parallels between Styles and McCartney – both once part of their own pop phenomenons, both artists who have experienced the sneer and jeer of critics in the early stages of their career only to have them do a 180 and laud them as credible rock heroes. Some might still turn their noses up at this suggestion but it would be no surprise if, in 50 years time, Styles is spoken about the same revered tones as the former Beatle. As tonight’s encore proves though, the former One Direction member has long justified being taken seriously.
Harry Styles played:
‘To Be So Lonely’
‘Sunflower, Vol 6’
‘Treat People With Kindness’
‘Sign Of The Times’
‘What Makes You Beautiful’