To begin anew, Harry Styles returned to where he last left things off. The consummate rock star finished the North American leg of his Love On Tour trek at Long Island’s new UBS Arena in November; he was also the first artist to grace the venue’s stage. On the same day he launched his third album Harry’s House, he returned to play the whole new batch of songs in full, and then some.
After an afternoon of pouring rain, the thousands of lucky fans who miraculously got the highly sought-after Ticketmaster pre-sale codes to the event entered the sold-out show covered in soaked boa feathers. The weather (and long commute from New York City proper) didn’t dampen the thrilled energy in the crowd. The general admission floor was like a class reunion, with girls in sequins and velvet running around to say hi to each other. The last time they may have met up was likely the last UBS event.
Once the well-memorized pre-show playlist ran its course (including an audience-wide sing-along to Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” an indicator that the house lights will soon go down), Styles and the band lineup he’s been performing with since Coachella emerged on stage. He debuted a new set design in honor of the album release: A giant, neon outline of a house. Along with the rectangular halo of flashing lights above the stage, the house changed colors with the songs or sometimes flashed on its own to the beat.
“Music for a Sushi Restaurant” already serves as an excellent opener to Harry’s House, but it’s even more ferocious as the kick-off to his set. The silly, high-energy, horn-laden track is a slick, single-ready energy boost that’s difficult to not dance aggressively to. Take it from the sweater-and-leather-sporting Styles, who did just that to the deafening screams of his loving and feral fans.
Styles had done a similar “One Night Only” show for 2019’s Fine Line at the Forum in Los Angeles on his sophomore album’s release day. Just like that special show, this East Coast version provided insight into what songs are due to become fan favorites. Even more than his previous two albums, Harry’s House feels distinctly created to be played live, and to be played live with the very specific and incredible band he’s assembled over the last year. Funky little jams like “Late Night Talking,” “Daylight” and “Cinema” were explosive in an arena. “As It Was,” the album’s first single and Styles’ biggest hit yet, is so much fun to jump around to live that the star played it twice: once during the initial album stretch and again as a surprise set closer.
Tonally, Styles’ sound has moved more upbeat over the three albums so there are only three “ballads” on the album, though they’re more in the vein of plucky folk tunes than “Falling”-esque weepers. “Matilda” was the clear winner. The song about being able to find peace after trauma by creating home wherever you need it may have felt relatable to fans for a million different reasons, but it rang especially prescient as an anthem for the type of community they’ve created at shows like these. There was a sense of reverence as he played it. Much of the crowd fell silent, moved and likely crying as many in my corner of the pit were.
Some of the show’s biggest highlights came in the second half of the set (and on the album). “Keep Driving” provided the oddly invigorating opportunity to scream “Cocaine/Side boob/Choke her with a sea view” and is sure to be a contender for tour favorite (if he keeps it in for his upcoming shows). “Love of My Life” may have been bumped up on my personal song rankings after hearing it live: The song is a simple, affectionate slice of pop heaven that made me wish it were twice as long as it actually is.
The album had just been released 22 hours earlier but it had leaked online a few weeks back, meaning that there were more audience members who had every lyric and note memorized already than you would have expected (or would have otherwise admitted it). Styles even joked about it in between songs later in the set: “Who knows the words? But how?”
Styles was even more talkative than usual, emitting just a hint of nervous energy at playing many of these songs live for the first time, on the first day they’re out. He told stories behind their writing, thanking his collaborators who happen to be some of his dearest friends. Before “Little Freak,” he thanked Kid Harpoon, with whom he wrote the song in a Tokyo hotel room a few years ago. Tyler Johnson got a shout out before “Daydreaming,” when Styles recalled getting a voice note from Johnson while on a drive back to LA from Palm Springs that turned out to be an early version of the track. Ben Harper was thanked before “Boyfriends,” a song that was first written at the tail end of the Fine Line sessions that took on many forms until Harper came along and they finished it for his latest. As he prepared to close the album, Styles also thanked Rob Stringer, the Chairman and CEO of Sony, with whom Styles has become close. Stringer had lent his house to Styles and his friends to work on the album.
The encore was your typical victory lap of past hits. He strutted the runway on “Adore You” and forgot the lyrics to “Watermelon Sugar.” During “Sign of the Times,” he grabbed both a Ukraine flag and pride flag to hold up while singing the power ballad. He introduced that as the very first song he ever released, before making the same introduction to One Direction’s “What Makes You Beautiful.” It was two touching nods to his fans, no matter when they came on board.
During the venue exodus, more fans hugged and giggled their way out of Long Island. Some even let off some of that extra adrenaline with whatever tears they had left.
“This is the happiest moment of my life even though I’m crying,” said one wet-faced fan on her way to the shuttle. I’m sure thousands more agree.
Harry Styles: One Night Only in New York Set List
“Music for a Sushi Restaurant”
“Late Night Talking”
“As It Was”
“Love of My Life”
“Sign of the Times”
“What Makes You Beautiful” [One Direction cover]
“As It Was” [Reprise]