Eardrums are things you can live without, right? Because no one who is at Brixton Academy to see Harry Styles on Tuesday night will ever fully recover from the sheer swells of the crowd as they sing the entirety of Harry’s House, an album that has been out for four days. That’s not to mention the screams – oh boy, the screams.
It’s much easier to understand the screams when you are faced with Harry Styles on stage. Even a hardy metal head of aloof techno type would struggle to maintain composure. The man has a magic about him that just doesn’t translate to record, or even fully to television appearances. When Styles is on stage, something happens to you: a gasp, a flutter of the heart, a disbelief that this incredibly famous man is baring his soul (a bit) in front of you… it sets off a chemical reaction. Whether Styles is earnestly singing shut-eyed into the mic stand or dancing chaotically like a muppet on MDMA, it’s impossible not to appreciate that this man has something that most of us do not.
Not all critics – OK, not this critic – were sold on Harry’s House as a record. It felt slightly slippery, hard to grasp and stay with till the end. But seeing it live (he plays it start to finish in the first portion of this one-off London show), you get the Harry Styles magic even as he’s singing about sideboob or reeling off dreadfully obvious metaphors for his girlfriend.
“I want to be more and more honest with you as the show goes on: this is a point in my life where I never thought I’d say ‘cocaine side boob’ with my mother in the room,” he grins rakishly after “Keep Driving”. The dreadful “Cinema” is suddenly a charming little number when Styles strolls across the stage with it in his mouth; he clearly loves to perform, and he clearly especially loves to perform this song with its bounce and its opportunities for call and response.
The performance doesn’t just rely on his natural charisma, though there is no doubt that it helps. His voice is strong and comfortable, and his band – clad in pink boiler suits and clearly enjoying themselves – brings an energy to the songs that they need to make them pop. “Late Night Talking” in particular is fantastic, somehow both an intimate moment and an absolute party. This is a pop show at its absolute peak: warm, inclusive, thrilling and fun.
Some people have been queuing to get to the front of this show since Sunday afternoon. They weren’t allowed to queue outside the Academy then, so they hung around outside the Nando’s over the road. Cheap Primark duvets, abandoned umbrellas and rain-sodden baguettes litter the entrance, a monument to their dedication.
The crush at the front is strong and despite the security guards constantly hosing the crowd down and passing water around, by the encore, Styles stops the show’s big ballad moment “Fine Line” to request assistance for an ailing fan. Moments later, he stops the show again for the same reason – it was too much to hope that this would excuse us from having to sing “Happy Birthday” to someone in the crowd though.
At times it does feel a bit like a pantomime, but a raucous version of the One Direction hit “What Makes You Beautiful” is a neat reminder of where he’s been and how far he has come.
Sometimes you don’t have to overthink these things: you can experience sheer joy by standing near a big group of people all feeling the same emotion at the same time. You can shout along to songs you don’t think are very good and you can stand in front of Harry Styles and accept that he is a born performer and an incredible popstar. I highly recommend a stay at Harry’s House; you’ll have a five-star time.