PITTSBURGH — Harry Styles filled the seats, and a void, Thursday at PPG Paints Arena.
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As the pop superstar confidently commanded the stage, a noise emerged that had been missing since the pandemic upturned our lives.
It was the noise of 18,000 or 19,000 or so youthful fans — mostly women — screaming, shrieking and shouting with glee. It was a refreshing sound after the 19 months of hard work.
The screams came often, and without warning, unless you could anticipate the sudden triggering moves, gestures or smiles of Styles beamed onto gigantic video screens. Though he was easy to see for yourself, too, thanks to the intimate, in-the-round stage the 27-year-old Englishman expertly worked.
The sold-out crowd, which largely obeyed the call for facial masks, got itself hyped before Harry emerged from a trap door hidden center stage. The pre-performance music mix was played “Olivia”Styles’ former pop band One Direction had its fans dancing enthusiastically. A few songs later, Queen’s was spun by the in-house DJ. “Bohemian Rhapsody,”The audience sang along to the Queen + Adam Lambert show in the same Pittsburgh arena in 2012, a volume equal to that of the Queen + Adam Lambert show two years earlier. (Not as many) “Wayne’s World”Style headbanging for the guitar solo.
Styles’ theatrical stage arrival found him clutching a guitar to strum during “Golden”Followed by “Carolina.”
Before “Adore You,” he encouraged fans — skewing late teens-to-early 20s — to feel free to be whoever they are.
I’ll declare it the most style-daring Pittsburgh concert crowd since the pandemic, including whimsical strawberry, watermelon and banana (more on that in a bit) motifs. Dozens of males and females alike played off Styles’ penchant for white ruffled shirts or blouses — or as style mavens Harper’s Bazaar describes that look, “think pirate’s shirt meets New York Fashion Week.”
Amid the dance-pop delightfulness of “Adore You,” a spectator tossed a purple boa at Styles, who snatched it mid-air with his left hand without missing a step or beat.
He warned fans that in-the-round settings would allow them to see a lot of his face and back. “so if you have a preference, shout it out.”
Yeah, the ladies and surely some guys in the crowd voiced their thoughts.
Styles got nicked in the face by a stuffed animal someone tossed at him but he shrugged it off after a what-were-you-thinking smile.
By “Only Angel,”Four songs into the song, he had taken off his top shirt buttons, revealing his chest with a gold cross. That’s the song. “Couldn’t take you home to mother in a skirt that short, but I think that’s what I like about it.”
Styles is sexy and sophisticated, but Styles also has sincerity. His facial gestures Thursday emotionally “sold” a song like “Falling,”A ballad about falling back in to bad habits.
Next, the carefully crafted setlist “Sunflower, Vol. 6,” a funky, electropop number where Styles’ smooth, pleasant voice reached falsetto heights. “Woman,”Next up, he brought a slick dance groove from his six members backing band, which is diverse in both genders as well as race.
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Like a professional athlete, Styles gave an encouraging pat on the rump to lead guitarist Mitch Rowland amid “Lights Up,”A song that was so popular that fans lit up their phones with it.
Styles was not caught in the moody, dark stage lighting or faux fog that many arena concerts are known for. Often it felt like the house lights were on, which helped fans snap those all-important Instagram photos.
Styles bored Googles like us sometimes, as he demonstrated by showing off his knowledge of Pittsburgh. “The City of Bridges,” has 446 bridges. HeTook a few moments to scan audience members’ homemade signs that bore messages ranging from “I traveled 5,000 miles to see you” to “submissive and breedable.”
Many fans held high. “It’s my birthday”Signs. Styles randomly struck up a conversation with one of those Oct. 14 babies, a young adult named Madeline, who said she works as an emergency room nurse. “Oof,” responded Styles, insisting the crowd reward her for her front-line service, as everyone erupted into a rousing rendition of “Happy Birthday to You.”
At the beginning of “Treat People With Kindness,”Styles was proudly carrying two rainbow flags as he ran the length the stage. Next came One Direction’s hit. “What Makes You Beautiful”This got fans jumping up and down in joy.
The title track is from the late 2019 album “Fine Line” began with hand percussion and Styles strumming an acoustic guitar, before drummer Sarah Jones grabbed a couple mallets to strike her cymbals as the song took on a Mumford & Sons style vigor.
Styles poked fun at the cliché of concert encores, explaining how he would leave the stage, but — surprise, surprise — come back out for a few more songs.
The encore began with “Sign of The Times,”This is a catchy piece of Britpop with Oasisish pomp and grandeur.
Next was the funk-pop chart-topper “Watermelon Sugar,” which turned the arena into a huge dance party, as Styles ad-libbed an opening line about a few fans he spotted in banana costumes. You could say the three-song encore climaxed with “Watermelon Sugar,” a 2020 single that made headlines earlier this month when Styles confirmed the lyrics are about … well, Google that yourself.
Anyone who objectively witnessed a One Direction show — I covered the group at Heinz Field and Consol Energy Center — knew Styles would be the breakout star, though it’s amazing how his trajectory keeps rising.
On Thursday, he demonstrated that hard-to-define “It”factor of rarified superstars. He’s captivating and quite likeable, hailed by Rolling Stone for his “non-toxic masculinity.”
If you haven’t heard his pop music, give it a try.
He picks opening acts with care, such as Jenny Lewis from Pittsburgh, whose charming, disarming and twangy indie-rock appealed to audiences half her age. Lewis was able to draw from her critically acclaimed catalogue, but Lewis may have been the most successful. “Puppy And a Truck,”A cute song about two purchases that perked her-up during the pandemic.
Wearing enough glittery sparkles to earn an “atta girl!” from Shania or Dolly, Lewis did a gag where she pretended to field a phone call from her dog backstage, as the pooch imposed a bit of wisdom: Always leave a room dancing. Lewis did exactly what she said, and finished her 45-minute show by dancing with a costumed dog character her size.
Scott Tady is the local Entertainment Reporter for The Beaver County Times Ellwood City Ledger. You can reach him at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @scotttady