The Bible reveals something interesting in the book of Hebrews. I’m paraphrasing, but chapter 13, verse two tells us to treat people with kindness, because they could be angels sent by God to look out for us in some way. Coincidentally, Harry Styles spreads a similar message, quite famously. The sentiment has appeared on his records, been printed on his merch and placed on the hearts of his enormous worldwide audience — “treat people with kindness.” Now, am I actually suggesting that THE biggest pop star on the planet is an anointed messenger sent by God to spread the Gospel? Well, that would be ridiculous. Or would it?
What a long strange trip it’s been. Two weeks to “flatten the curve” has dragged into an ongoing 18-month ordeal, as a reportedly lethal virus claims lives and consumes culture. In the process, it also has introduced us to a peculiar term — “the new normal.” But after nearly two years of meltdowns, shutdowns and lockdowns, death and darkness had to begin giving way to life and light. And truth be told, commerce no longer could be controlled by COVID. Cue the road crew.
While it’s certainly encouraging to see things starting to get a bit back to normal (at least in parts of America), there is a big difference between the “old normal” and the “new normal” — particularly as it pertains to attending concert events. For live music fans, spacious purses have been replaced by strictly enforced econo-sized clutches. Pat-downs at the hands of beefy security guys have been replaced by airport-type metal detectors. Makeup has been replaced by masks. And hard copy tickets have been replaced by vaccination cards and printed proof of current COVID tests. Tour bus drivers, start your engines!
A cross-country excursion that had been put on hold for many months, Harry Styles’ 2021 “Love on Tour” production would be a bona fide sight and sound spectacle — one that was destined to sell out enormo-domes with Tom Brady-like consistency. Let’s get this party started!
If nothing else, a Harry Styles concert is a party — to which everybody is invited. It’s a celebration that’s about people coming together — revealing their personalities, their humor and their styles (no pun intended). From the bevvy of belly shirt babes, obsessed with taking selfies (just sayin’, it could be a sickness) to various lovely examples of obvious “daddy/daughter dates” to near countless outcasts — the young people who, for whatever reason, are probably bullied at school and mocked by society at large — everybody is welcomed, accepted and embraced when Styles hosts a soiree. Treat people with kindness.
During his recent Florida run, the One Direction alumnus played to sell-out crowds at the Amway Center in Orlando (10.7), the FLA Live Arena in Sunrise (10.8) and Tampa’s Amalie Arena (10.10). Created with hopes of getting the attention of their beloved golden god, the nightly parade of fan-made placards provided plenty of pre-show amusement. In Tampa, one sign read, “HARRY, BE MY GRANDMA!” Hmm. At times, the vibe almost felt like that of an experience down at the local farmers market, with numerous costumed fans invading the arenas as all sorts of colorful characters, from cheering cherries to bunches of bananas to super-psyched sunflowers. A sign of the times, to be sure.
While the stadium-sized “in the round” staging, state-of-the-art lighting, massive video screens and mammoth sound reinforcement truly proved impressive, the eager nightly 20,000 enthusiasts (including 72 dudes) remained focused on one man, his magical music and his impeccable six-piece band. And the 18-song setlist would reflect a reasonable balance between Styles’ two multi-platinum-selling solo discs; Fine Line (2019) and Harry Styles (2017). Truth be told, Styles could have done his thing under one single 60-watt soft white bulb without compromising a smidge of WOW-factor. However, the addition of opening act, longtime anointed indie singer-songwriter princess, Jenny Lewis, did bring a lil’ extra bang for the buck.
Simply put, you can’t fake authenticity. And despite his chart-busting boy band beginnings, Styles is the real deal — owning the legit cred of classic artists from the past, while forging into the future. Possessing golden-era Hollywood leading man looks, the 27-year-old superstar ascended to the spotlight from beneath the stage each night promptly at 9 pm. In Tampa, he arrived on the scene dressed in pleated mint green trousers (with suspenders of course) and a fabulous flowing sparkly coral-colored shirt — like a glam version of the circa ’76 David Bowie “thin white duke” persona. Twinking away furiously at his vintage Gibson hollow body twanger, he led the charge immediately into the high-energy, show-opening, “Golden.” Game on!
“I’m in a fantastic mood” Styles announced to Fort Lauderdale fans, coming into “Adore You.” “And for the next 90-something minutes it will be our job to entertain you. And I promise you, we’ll do our absolute very best,” he continued. “But you also have a job to do — that is to have as much fun as you possibly can. You can sing, you can dance. Please feel free to do whatever it is you want to do in this room tonight. Also, please feel free to be whoever it is you’ve always wanted to be in this room tonight.”
“The energy in here is right,” Styles informed the Fort Lauderdale faithful, segueing into “Only Angel.” “A couple of things about tonight’s show, then we’re gonna keep on going,” he added. Explaining to his legions what to expect from the “in the round” experience, Styles confessed that for part of the show, fans would be looking at his face — the rest of the time, they’d be looking at his ass. Judging by the crowd reaction, there apparently was no downside to either scenario. “Are you ready to dance with me?” he asked as brilliant swirling smoke-like effects then quickly bathed the stage.
Despite the acknowledged perfection of Styles’ recorded music, his songs become larger than life in a live concert setting. The groovy and mystical “She” assumed an entirely new identity, as longtime lead guitarist, Mitch Rowland, unleashed blistering nightly solos that brought the song beyond studio boundaries. From center stage, Rowland swaggered down the catwalk, mid-solo, where he was joined in short order by Styles and piano/organ/keyboardist, Niji Adeleye, for an intimate rendition of “Falling.” Anyone who wasn’t moved by that one may have been flatlining.
Bursting with sunshine, “Sunflower, Vol 6” provided a psychedelic-looking highlight, as well as the rousing fan sing-along, “To Be So Lonely.” Navigating to the far end of the opposite catwalk, Styles was joined by bassist, Elin Sandberg, and utilitarian band member, Ny Oh, for the down-and-dirty, “Woman.” Strapping on an SG model Gibson, Sandberg slayed ’em with extended nightly solos, while Oh commandeered a keytar-type setup, resulting in yet another noteworthy moment. Additional sweet spots included the “Never Going Back Again”-flavored, “Cherry” and the seemingly “Love the One You’re With”-inspired, “Canyon Moon.”
One of the show’s biggest nightly moments played out near the end of the sets with Styles’ aforementioned tune, “Treat People with Kindness.” Via one’s personal earbuds, the song projects a certain Saturday morning innocence. However, live, it becomes a show-stopping, world-beat anthem.
Along the way, Styles engaged the arena-sized crowds with his personable, signature-style charisma — as if he was playing someone’s private backyard kegger — even leading his legions in spirited nightly “Happy Birthday” sing-alongs dedicated to various random and unsuspecting disciples.
Although Styles now has become known widely as a one-man brand, the full impact of his live show is the result of a world-class ensemble, including his pair of drum-banging Brits. Percussionist, Pauli Lovejoy, not only is a master musician, but his performances are absolutely exhausting to witness. And Styles’ longtime drummer, Sarah Jones, remains one of the most exciting and inspirational players on today’s music scene.
While he may, or may not actually be an anointed messenger sent by God, you still gotta be pretty hard-hearted to hate on Harry. Displaying genuine humility and gratitude, he offered closing props to Jenny Lewis, his band and crew, and he thanked fans for all of his good fortune. “Tell the people you love that you love them,” he encouraged the crowd. “Just have their backs just a little bit more — we’ll be alright,” he concluded as an explosion of iGadget lights provided the perfect backdrop for the set-ending, “Fine Line.”
In the porno biz, the “apex” moment of an adult film is known as the “money shot.” At Styles’ Florida shows, the “money shots” arguably were the three-song encores. The soaring “Sign of the Times” is THE most moving musical masterpiece since Bat Out of Hell, while the smooth-groovin’ “Watermelon Sugar” always will be simply irresistible and “Kiwi” never fails to appeal to one’s nether regions.
The U.S. “Love on Tour” roadshow rolls on through the fall when it’s set (for now) to wrap in Little Rock, Arkansas on November 24th.
Harry Styles “Love on Tour” Set List:
3. Adore You
4. Only Angel
7. Sunflower, Vol. 6
8. To Be So Lonely
11. Lights Up
12. Canyon Moon
13. Treat People with Kindness
14. What Makes You Beautiful (One Direction)
15. Fine Line
1. Sign of the Times
2. Watermelon Sugar