Who would have thought that in this age of auto-tune and EDM bleeps that sound like functions on a microwave oven, a member of a made-for television boy band would carry the torch for rock music. Yet here he is: Harry Styles, the 23-year-old “X Factor U.K.” grad and One Direction fave, who has delivered what is arguably 2017’s most stunning musical statement with his self-titled debut album.
On the one-week anniversary of that album’s May 12 release, Styles joked about his limited repertoire onstage at the Troubadour, a surprise gig for diehards announced just that afternoon (proceeds from ticket sales went to the charity Safe Place for Youth). It was the latest in a series of so-called “underplays,” starting with a show at the 600-capacity The Garage in London. And being the Los Angeles performance, the Friday bow came with extra star wattage: a guest appearance by Stevie Nicks, who joined Styles for three songs midway through the set, Fleetwood Mac’s classic “Landslide,” Nicks’ own “Leather and Lace,” and Styles’ sweet “Two Ghosts.”
Styles began the night with an entirely unneeded introduction – “I’m Harry, nice to meet you,” he said to no one in particular and everyone at the same time – and a justified reverence for the room where Elton John, The Eagles, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, and Carole King were onstage regulars. Indeed, his opening numbers, “Ever Since New York” and “Carolina,” both felt like nods to that bygone era of real instruments – thanks to multiple guitars, a Mellotron, and the impressive chops of Styles drummer Sarah Jones (already deemed a “badass” by the internet) — and irresistible melodies.
Styles doesn’t posture much during his performances – a policy also held by One Direction who famously objected to dance routines and the pop tropes for which Simon Cowell-discovered acts are known – opting instead to concentrate on the vocals, which hit the top of his range and require as much power as his diaphragm can muster. Credit the latter to 1D, which no doubt sharpened his ability to belt a money note (witness: the crescendo at the end of “Sign of the Times”).
At times during the Troubadour show, Styles adopted an Oasis-like stance at the microphone — “Sweet Creature,” for instance, articulating the acoustic subtleties of the folksy number, which he explained was the first he wrote for the album. During punchier numbers like “Woman,” “Only Angel,” and “Kiwi,” however, Styles embodied the swagger of Jagger. He marveled more than once that it was the best night of his life, no doubt due to Nicks’ imminent appearance.
Duetting with the woman who traded verses with Tom Petty meant both triumph and tears for Styles, who was visibly emotional for “Two Ghosts,” a standout track on the album. While it took a minute for the volume of Nicks’ vocals to match Styles’, her mere presence added a heft to the song and reaffirmed that it is, in fact, a beauty (Nicks said it herself: “It’s a great song, huh?”). Here’s hoping it will be Columbia Records’ choice for the album’s next single.The Fleetwood Mac classic “Landslide” followed, which Nicks explained was the one song that the band plays without fail at every single show. “This song travels through the generations,” she said. Styles had no trouble hitting the sweet spots in the harmonies, continuing on with Nicks’ solo hit “Leather and Lace” then bowing down to the “queen of everything” as she left the stage.
“I am losing my s— in a cool way,” a misty-eyed Styles added, and proceeded to slap his face in disbelief.
Earlier in the night, an audience member yelled out for Styles to “Show us your tits!” Without missing a beat, Styles responded, “It’s still early and I haven’t had one drink so that’s a maybe.” By the time set-closer “Kiwi” and show-ender “Sign of the Times” came around, Styles was truly — perhaps finally — able to let his hair down. You could even say he’s just getting going.