REVIEW: We all know why thousands came to Auckland’s Mt Smart Stadium in the middle of a Tuesday night.
It’s not just to see the sequins, shimmering in the autumnal sun, nor is it the feather boas, the majority of which have already shed their multi-coloured dayglo layers around the edges of the stadium before the night’s begun.
We want to know how Harry Styles, the lust munchkin of many a pubescent teen (and their parents in the audience given how many mothers and daughters are here for a night out) is going to honour Aotearoa after doing a shoey and wearing a Bunnings hat on stage in Aussie.
Harry knows it too, waiting till the third song ‘Adore You’ is done before he unleashes his infinite charisma on the crowd, by leading them in waiata ‘Tūtira Mai Ngā Iwi’, (“it’s much longer than I was told it was”) before addressing us all as the “people of Auckland – and (dramatic pause) surrounding areas”) and asking the one question he knows everyone wants the answer to.
“Did everyone do the Census thing?” he cheekily retorts, referring to the collective furore we all whipped ourselves into over whether the celeb would complete it or cop a fine.
“I’ve done it – I think,” comes his winking response.
And just like that, the crowd’s in the palm of his hands until the end of the night when ‘Kiwi’ closed the show as the moon rose over Mt Smart’s western stand.
Yet moments before it felt like there was a bit of a falter, a salacious stumble and a hint that Styles’ vocals couldn’t quite match the falsetto harmonies of ‘Golden’ so early on and the ferocious tempo and musicianship of his excellent band after starting so strongly with ‘Music for a Sushi Restaurant’ as Love on Tour kicked off.
As the night progresses, and the pop star whips through songs from his previous albums, it’s clear the more time passes, the stronger he becomes – even if the set tends to fall into the category of the poppy songs followed by the slower torch song numbers that are made to make you swoon. It’s these slower moments when the musical energy dips a little that showcase the power of Styles – the music may not be the strongest during them, but a wave or a smile from him delivers all the religious fervour and screams of an enraptured congregation.
There’s been a convivial atmosphere since 6.30pm when ‘Poi E’ got the crowd going and the ends of feather boas were twirled like poi, and Tauranga local and Styles’ bandmate Ny Oh kicks things off with her ethereal sounds. After ending her set in tears of joy, indie act Wet Leg really sends things up a notch with some excellent guitar-based tunes that build the crowd up into the right mood.
But it’s Styles they’re all here to see, after COVID-19 forced his absence from these shores for too long. It’s something playing on his mind throughout as he continually thanks the audience for their love and support “whether it’s been for 1 year, 5 years or 12 years”.
In many ways, Styles is more suited to a cabaret show than a full on concert experience – he’s here to provide a show, to banter with his fans and to just generally enjoy it with his infectious enthusiasm, his wide-eyed geniality and his sense of what a cheeky quip can get away with. The stage is obvious in its simplicity, with a simple light show scattered throughout to complement proceedings – purple and green lights dance around during ‘Watermelon Sugar’.
It starts off low-key, but before launching into what he calls the disco section of the show, he stops proceedings to take in some of the myriad of signs brought by the fans. From quizzing one who claimed they sold their cat’s leg for a ticket (“Why?” “I’m gonna be honest here Auckland, not sure where to go from here”) to another whose bestie’s gone through a break-up (“What happened to treat people with kindness?” he retorts as the audience collectively boos the ex in the break-up), Styles is both the consummate showman and simultaneously, the cheesy host who worked the seaside crowds during bad summer holidays, looking for easy gags and comfortable wins.
It’s an interesting paradigm but one that massively works for him. From bounding around the stage doing high kicks to genuinely grooving away to his backing band’s taut and exciting skills, there’s something in the Styles show that works so well for its target audience, even if you leave nonplussed at the end why you’ve been won over and whistling his perfect pop ditties.
Perhaps it’s his willingness to immerse himself in the country’s culture in which he performs, perhaps it’s his back catalogue of perfectly formed three-minute pop songs deployed to devastating effect across radios and TikTok – it all coalesces together into something musically magical for his target audience.
There’s a frenzied response from the audience, who pogo hysterically to the likes of ‘As It Was‘, ‘Late Night Talking’ and ‘Watermelon Sugar’ while singing adoringly with their hero – there’s no denying the pure adrenaline coursing through the air and the utter joyousness of it all. A One Direction ditty’s thrown in (‘What Makes You Beautiful’) as the light show builds to a crescendo – it’s all very slick, very polished and very much on brand.
‘Treat People with Kindness’, ‘Woman’, ‘Little Freak’ and ‘Satellite’ – all the songs the fans want are here and more – and it’s good to see him embrace his past with the 1D song that’s been adjusted to suit his temperament and current live show sensibilities.
But it’s Styles’ willingness to play the home crowd which proves to be his power – embracing the Tino Rangatiratanga flag around his shoulders during ‘Cinema’ and then draping a rainbow pride flag, Styles is as happy to parade his emotions as much as he’s content to stop and let the audience sing the likes of ‘Matilda’ back to him.
After playfully offering a peek into his song-writing process with a tune about how there are people in the crowd dressed like bananas and promising to be back (“until we return – and we will”), Styles wraps it all up with ‘Kiwi’ a song “you should know… it’s named after you”, ensuring his Messianic status is complete and the audience ecstasy has peaked.
What’s clear by the end of the night is that stumbles can be overcome, with charisma and self- assurance, but yes, it is Harry’s House and for one night only we were all just living in it.