Harry Styles at MSG 2021: Review - Rolling Stone
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Harry Styles Sent Us Back to 2019 — and the Seventies — at Glitter-Slicked MSG Set

Nearly two years after releasing Fine Line, Styles is hitting the North American leg of Love on Tour

harry styles madison square garden

PHAM*

If you passed through New York’s Herald Square on Sunday, you probably felt like a time traveler. Thousands of young fans were dressed up, Seventies-style, for a show that they’ve been waiting for for two years — colorful flared pants, feather boas, glitter, and two-piece suits aplenty. Just stop your crying, it’s a sign of times… the times being Harry Styles finally playing Madison Square Garden after years away.

Nearly two years after releasing Fine Line, Styles is hitting the North American leg of Love on Tour, which was announced around the album’s release and originally meant to set sail last spring in Europe — before the Covid-19 pandemic derailed the entire world’s plans. 

Even though it’s been two years since its release, there was no universe where Styles wouldn’t tour Fine Line. His second album was even bigger than his self-titled debut, generating hits like “Watermelon Sugar” and “Adore You,” as well as expanding his fanbase well beyond the young One Direction fans who have stuck by him for over a decade. It was one of the most anticipated treks of 2020 and remains as such in 2021, although it may look a little different this time: Masks are required for all attendees, as well as a Covid-19 vaccination (venues in other states allow proof of a negative PCR test as well in lieu of vaccination).

Luckily, Jenny Lewis stayed on the bill. Her most recent album, the excellent On the Line, came out before Styles’, so at least they were in the same strange boat. Upon the announcement that she was opening on the North American dates, many GenZ stans wondered who she was on Twitter. But hopefully they’ve gotten on the Lewis train by now: Her rhinestone cowgirl aesthetic and Nashville-adjacent sound is a perfect fit of Styles’ own, making them a dream pair. She even snuck in a little Rilo Kiley with a cover of “Silver Lining,” hopefully scoring a slew of new listeners for the band that got Lewis her start.

The wait in between sets for Styles flew by: The attendees occupied themselves by begging Disney stars and rumored “Drivers License” subjects Joshua Bassett and Sabrina Carpenter for photos and singing along to One Direction’s “Olivia” as it played over the speakers — not once, but twice. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and the ensuing arena-wide sing-along seemed to indicate that show time was nearing as anticipation further mounted from the buzzing crowd.

Styles took center stage in a two-piece black suit with feathered arms, launching immediately into Fine Line opener “Golden,” a bright and energetic single that got the room shaking for the first time that night.

Wisely, Styles’ performed in the round, giving fans either his face or “all butt, baby,” as he cheekily pointed out. There were two general admission pits, which from the stands, seemed to be one of the most polite and communal show pits imaginable. It was the perfect setup for a star like Styles, whose thousands of fans dressed to impress and wanted nothing more than a second of his time or attention. Expertly bouncing around the stage and the long catwalks that stretched across the arena, he was able to give that and much more, making the legendary venue feel like an intimate club.

By some miracle, Styles and his band were able to play Fine Line in its entirety (including “To Be So Lonely,” which was left off the setlist of the tour’s first few shows). He also included some well-placed tracks from his 2017 debut, like the raucous “Only Angel” and smooth “Woman.” The pace and energy were vastly different this time; his debut was a largely folk-y affair, heavy on the acoustic guitar with big campfire sing-along energy. Love on Tour is a bawdier party, full of dancing from both Styles and the crowd.

Helping keep the pace were a mix of old and new band members. Of course, drummer Sarah Jones and guitarist Mitch Rowland (who recently had their first child) were back on the road with the star and have been since day one. Fans cheered enthusiastically any time they were highlighted, especially when Rowland shredded his way through the “She” guitar solos. Bassist Elin Sandberg and multi-instrumentalist Ny Oh were exquisite during “Woman” and a pared-down “Cherry” moment, while pianist Niji Adeleye and percussionist Pauli Lovejoy were scene-stealers at every turn with their enthusiastic dancing.

Toward the end of the main set, the communal feeling of the show strengthened. “Treat People With Kindness,” Styles’ mantra, turned into the biggest party-starter yet. Fans in the pit created dance circles and did something akin to the Electric Slide in unison. On stage, Styles held up both Bi Pride and Black Lives Matter flags to massive screams. It quickly morphed into a cover of One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful,” a song Styles really doesn’t need to do but has such a blast singing that I hope he keeps it in his shows forever.

The encore was a perfect cap: “Sign of the Times,” his first-ever solo single, kicked things off as he belted the track beneath two large disco balls that made the whole room sparkle. He introduced the band during a slow-burn reworking of “Watermelon Sugar,” similar to the one he performed at the Grammys this year. He even brought back the song he debuted a few shows ago when he sang to a woman in a banana suit (“She’s dressed as a banana, ayy”). Of course, there were several banana costumes in attendance due to the very existence of the rarity.

For his closer, Styles ended on the highest note, showcasing the biggest flex of his rock star prowess. He blazed through “Kiwi,” the high energy fan-favorite that he also played years ago at MSG; back then, it got the floor shaking so much that drummer Jones’ drumset started sliding across the stage. It was no different this time: The whole room shook through the track as Styles said his goodbyes. He had issued a request early in the show for everyone to “be who it is you’ve always wanted to be,” and with one final song, the whole room let loose. They were finally getting to be who they’ve been waiting to become for the last 18 months.

Love On Tour Setlist

“Golden”
“Carolina”
“Adore You”
“Only Angel”
“She”
“Falling”
“Sunflower, Vol. 6”
“To Be So Lonely”
“Woman”
“Cherry”
“Lights Up”
“Canyon Moon”
“Treat People With Kindness”
“What Makes You Beautiful” (One Direction cover)
“Fine Line”

Encore:
“Sign of the Times”
“Watermelon Sugar”
“Kiwi”

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