The Times review: Harry Styles, Hammersmith Apollo
Pop review: Harry Styles at the Eventim Apollo, W6
Will Hodgkinson, November 1 2017, 12:01am, The Times
There was admirable authenticity to Harry Styles’s embracing of classic rock, but his heroes wouldn’t have turned the Apollo into one big safe space
To judge from his debut UK solo show, Harry Styles is a rock star trapped in a pop world. The former floppy-haired one from One Direction here had a quiff, a metallic suit and a big guitar, just like Elvis Presley. He bust out some Mick Jagger-style dance moves. And he fronted a live band with a vocal style recalling Elton John and David Bowie.
It was all part of an effort to move from boy-band puppet to serious musician, although the number of teenage girls camped outside the venue, the decibel levels of the girls inside it and Styles’s puppyish charm, would indicate that the transition won’t be an entirely smooth one.
There was admirable authenticity to Styles’s embracing of classic rock. Unlike his former band members, who are doing modish R&B (Zayn Malik) or unthreatening balladry (Niall Horan), he clearly isn’t chasing after fashion or commerciality, which means he must just really like this kind of music. Woman sounded like Elton’s Bennie and the Jets. Carolina wasn’t dissimilar to Stealers Wheel’s Stuck in the Middle With You. Only Angel had touches of the Rolling Stones. This was music for dads, which was strange given that the only dads to be found were the ones outside the venue, diligently shivering in the cold as they waited to transport their daughters home.
Styles’s songs were for the most part solid rather than remarkable, but his inherent pleasantness appealed. He draped himself in a rainbow flag, told his fans they all looked fabulous and said his job was “to do whatever makes you happy. Please feel free to be whatever it is you want to be in this room.” When it got too much for one poor girl who fainted at the excitement of it all, he stopped mid-song and asked everyone to move back. Lou Reed he is not.
And that could be a problem for a career in rock. Styles’s heroes were difficult people, and he seems like a nice guy, including One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful in the set to keep the fans happy and generally turning the Apollo into one big safe space. He has style and talent, as evinced by a very good rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain and his own, Bowie-like Sign of the Times. Now he just needs a bit more wilfulness, and he really will be his own man. O2 Apollo, Manchester, November 1; SEC Armadillo, Glasgow, November 2