Harry Styles – Spark Arena December 2, 2017

Last night’s concert at Spark Arena found Harry Styles caught between two paths; that of the tween-pop that made his name in One Direction and the more classic-soft-rock-inspired path of his first solo outing, with the performer himself seemingly uncertain as to where between these two he wanted to be.

The result was an intriguing performance that left a picture of an artist finding his footing, not quite delivering fully on either path, but still effortlessly bringing joy to a sold-out arena on the biggest night of his Australia/New Zealand tour just by showing up and opening his mouth.

The opening act was Tasmanian singer-songwriter Maddy Jane, joined by a three-piece band. I thoroughly enjoyed her brand of bouncy garage rock, which borrows more than a little from fellow Australian Courtney Barnett, both in musical style and her openly accented vocal delivery. She was a surprising choice of opener for the tour, though her set was met with incredible enthusiasm and even some early phones-in-the-air moments from the audience.

Speaking of the audience, I have never seen a concert crowd so dominated by one gender and age group before (female, 12-25, in case you needed telling.) Looking out over the entire floor of Spark Arena was almost a surreal view. While it may not have been much different from the view at One Direction’s 2013 show in the same venue, signs pointed to a different approach on the performer’s part. Following the rocking opening act, the songs played over the speakers in the long wait included cuts by The Kinks, The Beatles, and several other “classic” artists. The stage setup was minimal by superstar standards, and undecorated beyond the musical equipment.

For the first few songs Styles appeared to be purposefully restraining the gimmicky boy-band charm, standing still at the microphone in his plain black outfit, an electric guitar around his neck, singing with an expression of furrowed seriousness. His initial greetings were even fairly calm, playing it cool to an audience who repaid him with unconditional hype anyway. This disconnect vanished when he shed the hollow-body guitar, which he seemed almost uncomfortable holding, and stepped into full boy-band-star mode, working the crowd with rehearsed showmanship (complete with blown kisses and “is there anybody out theres).

He certainly has a strong live voice, though interestingly it was noticeably weaker on the two One Direction cuts he played, Stockholm Syndrome and What Makes You Beautiful. It was nice to hear some roughness however, particularly in the sickly-sweet latter hit, where he didn’t even try to hit the high-reaching melody. Musically the set bounced along on chugging electric guitars, picked acoustics, and some great rock-solid drumming, courtesy of drummer Sarah Jones.

With relatively concise pop songs, Styles spent as much time talking to the audience as he did singing, repeating over and over his gratefulness and his desire for all of us to “have fun” to never-diminishing squeals. Despite this, the set still ran well short of an hour and a half – as he reminded everyone in another bout of nice-guy thankfulness, “I’ve only got ten songs”. These were fleshed out with two One Direction tunes, an Ariana Grande song he co-wrote, and a surprisingly fitting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain. Set closer Sign Of The Times was the inevitable highlight, for its deeply satisfying melodic grandiosity.

This is the singer’s first solo tour, so it is certainly interesting to see him find his footing and struggle with carving out a more mature musical identity, while still remaining firmly anchored to the twee pop tropes that have earned him his fans. Personally I wasn’t entirely convinced by the mid-ground result this time around. The more obvious of the 70’s-rock-inspired pieces were delivered slightly too poppy to sound genuine, while the straight-up bubblegum pop bangers lost much of their impact from their ‘mature’ reworkings.

But let’s be honest, Harry Styles didn’t really have to do much, did he? Maybe in ten years he’ll have to work hard musically to retain the sort of reaction he received last night. But in 2017, 90% of the audience who had actually dished out the money for tickets were convinced before a note of music was played, simply by his presence. When the lights dimmed, the audience gave the loudest collective scream I’ve ever heard. There was little he could have done, besides totally sucking (which he certainly did not), to lessen their adoration. So, regardless of the thoughts of one of the few non-fans in attendance, isn’t that a success?

Ruben Mita.

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Michael Flynn:



Ever Since New York

Two Ghosts


Sweet Creature

Only Angel


Meet Me In The Hallway

Just A Little Bit Of Your Heart (Ariana Grande cover)

Stockholm Syndrome (One Direction song)

What Makes You Beautiful (One Direction song)



From The Dining Table

The Chain (Fleetwood Mac cover)

Sign Of The Times