When Harry Styles played The Roxy last fall, he turned in a
thoughtful, intimate performance that showcased his intent to shed his boy band baggage and be taken seriously as a solo musician.
On Monday, Styles returned to the area – Infinite Energy Arena in Duluth – with his effective arena production that has already traveled much of the world, so it’s no surprise that his 100-minute show is both meticulously crafted and loosely fun at the same time.
Moments after a halo video board rose to reveal Styles in all of his debonair Harry-ness, the One Direction heartthrob turned on the charm. He blew kisses. Strolled the stage and clapped his hands in exuberance. Shook his artfully mussed hair. And that was all during the opening cowbell-filled “Only Angel.”
At only 24, Styles has perfected his Jagger swagger – and it doesn’t hurt that along with his undeniable charisma are the perfectly imperfect good looks of a member of Duran Duran circa 1983.
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But here’s the thing: Styles is more than an alluring presence. He’s a beautiful singer, with a creamy tone that works equally well on ballads and guitar grinders. He also knows – and gets – rock history and injects it into his solo material to form a sturdy backbone.
From the steady thump of “Woman” to the melodically lush “Ever Since New York” to the melancholy “Two Ghosts,” the fingerprints of Styles’ musical heroes are evident (even his pre-set music – Pink Floyd’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and Van Morrison’s “Madame George” - eschewed the usual caffeinated pop star hype).
He hasn’t lost his self-awareness, either, telling the worshipful, sold-out crowd early in the show, “My name is Harry, it’s a pleasure” (cue eardrum-splitting screeching). “Thank you for choosing to spend your evening with us” (eardrums now officially split).
All delivered with an impish grin, of course. But it’s important to note that his perpetual smirk isn’t one of sarcasm, but seemingly genuine happiness at seeing a packed venue full of adoring fans.
Styles’ headlining arena jaunt is obviously more polished than his club outing, but aside from cool lighting, risers to better watch the handiwork of his four-piece band and some animated video screen effects, the concert is focused on the songs –and their very pretty deliveryman.
“Carolina” bopped like a quirky Beck concoction, and the hit he wrote for Ariana Grande, “Just a Little Bit,” unfurled as a perfectly constructed pop ballad (during the song, a lone cigarette lighter was held aloft in the crowd – kudos to that guy).
For the fan favorite “Medicine” the stage glowed red as the snaky guitar riff played out and the song escalated into a meaty rocker before seguing into the woozy “Meet Me in the Hallway.”
Styles is definitely attuned to his followers’ needs, and wisely makes a mid-show hustle to the back of the arena for a swoon-worthy segment featuring the acoustic lullaby “Sweet Creature.”
Since Styles only has a lone solo album to promote – and he isn’t the type to shirk his past even as he evolves – a handful of One Direction songs peppered the set. As pink lights zigzagged across the stage and the first serrated guitar notes of “Stockholm Syndrome” played, the crowd erupted in a nostalgic frenzy dating all the way back to … 2014.
Following the buzzy popper “Anna,” Styles and his band turned out a terrific soul-rock recast of “What Makes You Beautiful” as Styles waved a rainbow flag and boogied across the stage with unfettered glee.
Not long after performing the dreamy “Sign of the Times,” the most ‘70s-centric of his musical homages, Styles unleashed Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” which he performed with the band earlier this year at their pre-implosion MusiCares benefit concert in New York.
If all Styles does is enlighten a new generation about his musical inspirations – the Bowies, the Queens, the Princes – his mission will have succeeded.
But clearly, this is a guy who has unlimited aspirations.
Even his choice of tour opener, the musically chameleonic Kacey Musgraves, speaks to Styles’ non-genre-specific interests.
The singer-songwriter recently released her fourth studio album – and one of the finest of the year so far – “Golden Hour,” and she used her 45-minute slot to share most of her new material.
Her low-key glamour – short, white dress and boots, Cher-like hair – suits a sound that is rooted in country, but also is infused with plenty of pop and soul.
Musgraves is one of the keenest songwriters of her generation and she expressed her talents on the languid valentine “Butterflies” - flecked with pedal steel guitar and piano to complement her acoustic guitar – and playfully grooving “Velvet Elvis.”
Musgraves has evolved into a quietly persuasive performer – and one equipped with an angelic, feathery voice, even when she visibly struggled with hearing herself during a few songs.
Prior to playing “Love is a Wild Thing,” Musgraves told the crowd, “There is a lot of hate floating around, but the truth is, love will always trump hate. Even though it feels like people are just trying to spread negativity, it’s not going to last for long.”
She also wished the audience a “happy Pride month!” before her delectable, be-yourself breakthrough, “Follow Your Arrow,” and gamely rolled through the disco-tastic set closer, “High Horse,” even though she again battled sound issues.
Musgraves was clearly aware of the cross-genre exposure she’s receiving on this tour as well, telling the crowd, “You’re here to support and to listen and I love it!”