“New York, are you feeling well and emotionally stable?” Harry Styles asked on the opening weekend of his historic 15-night stand at Madison Square Garden. When the entire crowd roared, “Noooo!,” he replied, “Good!” We can’t say he didn’t warn us. He kicked off his NYC Love on Tour residency with a riotous two-night celebration of mega-pop rapture at its most ecstatic. “Please feel free to do whatever you want to do in this room tonight,” Harry told the fans on Night Two. “Within reason.” It was a perfect intro, because the concept of “within reason” does not exist anywhere in the Harry cosmology — he couldn’t even say it with a straight face. Let’s just say this man is not doing wonders for the city’s emotional stability right now.
Styles is trying a new mode of touring, celebrating his blockbuster Harry’s House with extended residencies in New York, Austin, Chicago, and L.A. As he told Rolling Stone’s Brittany Spanos in our brand new cover story, it’s a way to perform without the energy-sucking strains of travel. You can tell Harry’s in town, by the trail of feathers and sequins for blocks — a touch of glam in the dog days of summer. NYC in August is usually a place people are desperate to escape, but he makes it seem like the most romantic destination on the planet.
Harry’s residency starts almost exactly eight years after the first time I saw him onstage with One Direction, in August 2014 at MetLife Stadium. It’s unmistakable how so much has changed about this guy, but not the weirdest thing — his pure devotion to Too Much All the Time. He thrives on an absurd drive to give his energy away, to bombard every corner of the room with the joy he gets from music, no matter how huge that room might be. As he sings in the show opener “Daydreaming,” he wants to give you something to dream about. And he does, from the tubular-bells synth groove of “As It Was” to the destructo-punk headbang of “Kiwi.”
He took the stage to jazz pianist Bill Evans’ “Peace Piece,” which (as he told Rolling Stone in 2019) was his longtime wake-up ritual. The music was overlaid with the voice of Buddhist scholar Alan Watts, saying, “This sensation of being a separate lonely individual is a hallucination.” Watts is talking about the soul breaking free of “our phony feeling that we are something lonely locked up in a bag of skin.” But it’s also a perfect description of live music at its best: a room full of strangers from different cultures, countries, generations, breaking free to become part of something vast and strange and slightly scary. And a Harry show is live music at its best.
One of the coolest fan signs in the pit: “Pose if you can see this.” Guess he saw it? Because this vixen never stopped wiggling, twirling, swooshing down the catwalk, giving high kicks like a Rockette with the rent due. This set is almost all uptempo bangers, mostly from Harry’s House. He’s going for a festively manic vibe, so you don’t mind him leaving out the ballads. (No “Falling,” “Cherry,” “Fine Line,” not even “Lights Up.”) It’s a super-emotional show, even without the sad songs, because the will to uplift never quits. The mood was summed up in the great moment where his guitar boogie “Cinema” crashes into “Music for a Sushi Restaurant,” linked by the horn fanfare from the Village People’s “Y.M.C.A.”
When he debuted these songs live in May, at his NYC One Night Only extravaganza, his excitement was off the rails — he ended the show by doing “As It Was” twice, a totally unexpected and unplanned move, because he just didn’t want it to end. (At his very first NYC show, in 2017, it was “Kiwi” he did twice.) As he says in the Rolling Stone cover story, that moment was startling even for him. As he said, “I kind of felt like, ‘All right, I’ve seen how crazy it can get.’ And I think there was something about it where I was … not terrified, but I just needed a minute. Because I wasn’t sure what it was. Just that the energy felt insane.” That’s how this show feels all the way through.
It’s his first time at the Garden since his HarryWeen blowout last October. He’s back to performing in the round, or as he elegantly put it, “I’m gonna be in the middle of you all night!” This stage set means he has to cover more space, but nobody loves covering space like he does. He explained, “Sometimes we’re gonna be face-to-face, eye-to-eye, window-to-soul. If I’m not facing you, you’ll be looking ass-to-face. If you have a preference, face or ass, let me know.” He gallantly promised to distribute his ass evenly, saying, “I can assure you there is plenty to go around. Which leads me to the introduction to this very sad song.” (Who else could get away with using an ass-to-face disclaimer as a lead-in to a ballad as heart-wrenching as “Matilda”? This man only.)
As always, he took special joy in roasting all the dads in the audience. On Night Two, he announced a new innovation. “It’s called Golf Dad Cam,” he said. “We’re gonna find the golf dads. It’s like Kiss Cam, except nobody wants to kiss them, because they’re golf dads!” He found 30 victims to mortify on the video screen, then proclaimed, “At the end of these shows, they’re gonna erect a banner in Madison Square Garden in honor of the golf dads. Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the bottom of your tucked-in polo-shirt hearts.”
(Note: Can you imagine if Harry played the Super Bowl halftime show? It would take hours because he’d have 70,000 golf dads in the house, and he’d need to make fun of every single one of them. They’d have to cancel the damn game.)
On Night One, a fan held up a sign asking for advice: Her ex just texted her after seven years. Harry took her phone to call the ex, Josh. (“It’s always Josh, isn’t it?”) When Josh immediately hung up on him, Harry told her, “I wish you all the happiness. Just not with Josh. There’s someone else out there who will treat you with respect and love you for who you are. Never Josh!” At the end of the show, he told the crowd, “Make some noise for Josh, whatever kind of noise you want to make.”
Harry’s House was made in pandemic isolation, so it’s a trip to hear how the songs open up live. The album’s most ethereally beautiful moments — “Daylight,” “Keep Driving,” the peerless “Satellite” — turn into full-blown glitz rockers, thanks to his all-star band: guitar god Mitch Rowland, drum guru Sarah Jones, percussion master Pauli Lovejoy, keyboardist Ny Oh, bassist Elin Sandberg, keyboardist Yaffra, and a jazzy four-piece horn section. On Sunday night, he busted out “Medicine,” really treating the microphone like a gentleman. At one point he paused so he could point out to Mitch and Sarah a T-shirt in the crowd that said “Bitch for Mitch.” (A category that pretty much included us all.)
He ended with the rock & roll mosh-pit raunch of “Kiwi,” a song that never fails to make strong buildings quiver in terror — both nights, it turned the floor of Madison Square Garden into Jell-O. Has anyone ever made a “Kiwi” supercut of Harry’s faces at the line “Such an actress”? He gives a different actress every night, and it’s always an Oscar-worthy star turn. You also gotta love how he always says “Get home safe” right before dropping “Kiwi” on our heads — it’s like telling someone “Have a nice day” before setting them on fire.
“Grapejuice” isn’t in the set, probably because of its tonsil-trashing high notes, but maybe it’ll be the “To Be So Lonely” of this tour — the fan fave that sneaks into the show by popular demand. On Night One, he teased an instrumental snippet while introducing the band — just a little edging. FWIW, when Paul McCartney hit the road this summer for his Got Back Tour, he surprised fans by busting out the slightly similar Wings groove “Let ‘Em In.” Could this mean that Sir Paul is a “Grapejuice”-head himself?
Harry slowed it down for his two most soulful ballads: “Sign of the Times” and the new “Matilda.” They feel spiritually linked — two poetic songs about trauma, grief, and rebirth. “Sign of the Times” is a communal anthem that gets mightier the more strangers you sing it with — in a way, that’s what the song is about. (I thought I already loved that song in 2017, but it’s built to be lived with over the years.) Yet “Matilda” is so intimate, it’s still disorienting to hear it in a crowded room. It’s a song designed for fans to access their most private selves, in a public, supportive space. Some spent “Matilda” having a meditative moment to themselves. Others let it all hang out, like the weepy group hug in front of me, with eight chosen sisters singing together. But everybody became part of the story. It’s the kind of moment Harry lives to generate.
He’d be the first to say that the audience creates these moments, and he just shows up to be part of it. But either way, the New York shows were a nonstop rush of those moments. You spend a couple of hours in this environment and the outside world looks a little brighter when you leave, because you take that feeling with you. It’s a revelation that enthusiasm is everything. Somehow, a 15-night stand of Harry Styles seems like it could never be enough.
“Music for a Sushi Restaurant”
“Treat People With Kindness”
“What Makes You Beautiful”
“Late Night Talking”
“Love of My Life”
“Sign of the Times”
“Medicine” (Sunday only)
“As It Was”