Maybe it was his polite British manner, or the ever-flirtatious tone of his voice. But never has a recorded thank-you note about masking up and showing vaccine cards received louder cheers than the one Harry Styles played for fans before his concert Wednesday night at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Probably more for the messenger than the message, the 18,000 fans on hand sounded exceptionally thankful to be attending the Twin Cities' first sold-out post-COVID arena concert — anticipation for which had been nearly two years in the making, and admission for which required masks and proof of vaccine or negative test results.
Despite those added rules, ticket demand remained high, and entry moved well. A link sent to ticket holders allowed them to upload their documentation before the show, resulting in just a quick flash of a phone screen at the gates.
It seemed like a small price to pay for a flash of the 27-year-old singer's dimpled smile, first seen with his old boy band One Direction a decade ago, and seemingly a whole other career ago. His second album, "Fine Line" — issued three months before lockdown — sealed his reputation as a sophisticated pop craftsman. Now it was finally time to see how he's grown as a showman.
Even with varying traces of Tom Jones, early Elton John, '80s David Bowie and many other idols, Styles' own unique persona shined through Wednesday: sexy and masculine, but with feminine flair and messages of inclusivity; unfailingly polite and affable, but a wee but cocky and snarky; and alternately playful and serious when he needs to be.
Performing on a sleek in-the-round stage — with long runways jutting out and a giant X-shaped video screen overhead — he showed off a lot more than just his persona as he danced and strutted around the stage in high-waisted, wide-legged trousers, with suspenders and a metallic, billowy shirt.
"You're going to see my rump for half the show," he warned before a very loud scream from the audience early in the show, after the light and catchy openers "Golden" and "Carolina."
He got cheeky a few songs later, too, joking, "Just in case there's any confusion: Guns N' Roses was last night. This is not that show, but a very similar show."
There truly was a rockier side to Styles on display, starting with the Stones-swaggering "Only Angel." His six-piece band — divided up by three men and three women — added a Vampire Weekend-like groove to "Sunflower, Vol. 6" and nailed the Sir Elton-y bounce in "Woman." They also helped the singer cleverly pay homage to his old group by delivering a Kool & the Gang-funky version of "What Makes You Beautiful."
One or two more 1D tunes would've been appreciated, but Styles' second LP provided enough material to fill 90 minutes without any lulls, including two ballads that showed off his impressive vocal range: "Falling," delivered on a small thrust stage; and "Fine Line," which closed the set before an encore with the bigger hits "Sign of the Times" and "Watermelon Sugar."
Styles introduced "Fine Line" by harking back on "the past 18 months when we weren't all able to be in this room together."
"If we all had each other's back just a little bit more, I think we're going to be all right," he said. See what I mean about knowing when to be serious?
Something of an odd fit in the opening slot, Americana pop-rocker Jenny Lewis — an indie music vet who typically performs at First Avenue — was treated like a genuine pop star. Fans probably unaware of the liqueur connotation waved their cellphone lights in unison to "Red Bull & Hennessey" and cheered loudly to her song dedications to "the tomboys out there" ("One of the Guys") and "all the complicated women out there" ("She's Not Me").
Just as Styles' crowd has expanded in age, looks like Lewis' will now, too.
Here's Wednesday's setlist from Styles:
- "Adore You"
- "Only Angel"
- "Sunflower, Vol. 6"
- "Lights Up"
- "Canyon Moon"
- "Treat People With Kindness"
- "What Makes You Beautiful"
- "Fine Line"
- "Sign of the Times"
- "Watermelon Sugar"
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658