As the British pop singer, promising actor, and spiritual descendant of Mick Jagger ascended the stage on the third night of his six-night residency in Chicago, the United Center trembled, hummed, and disintegrated in a white-hot screech of 23,000 screams. This happens every generation or so. Stewart, Rod. “New Kids on the Block.” Gaye, Marvin. Timberlake, Justin Elvis. The Fab Four. It’s terrifying to be in the middle of it. Even youngsters who intend to live forever have their ears plugged. If you recall the sound of the audience on “Cheap Trick Live at the Budokan,” this was louder. I once stood directly before Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s amps.
Or, more accurately, his audience was louder than hell, but with a twist: there was Beatles-esque love within that sound, a warmth that even the hottest act on Earth at any given time doesn’t always receive. I watched at least two grown women cry – happy tears. I saw circles of ladies leaping in joy, arms over each other’s backs. If you’re wondering why I’m bringing up music, understand that the first few songs were difficult to hear, let alone the instruments, Styles’ voice. That’s how loud the audience was. But it was oddly appropriate. Ambient decency was tucked into the (expensive) ticket price.
Styles stated early on that his “one duty” was to entertain, and then he asked the audience to “be whatever it is you always wanted to be” for at least one night. The man comes out as cheesy while being genuine.
Since I’ve already dated myself, let me say that I was reminded of Bruce Springsteen in some ways. Not musically or lyrically; Styles is still in the early stages of his career, working his way toward depth. But I was reminded of how, before his superstar stadium days, Bruce Springsteen acquired a reputation for appearing on stage as a human person rather than a rock star. He was witty, often purposely staged, and he made you laugh. Styles possesses it. He wants a supposedly permeable barrier between himself and his audience in a vibey approach. He is the forward-thinking hand on your shoulder. He understands you. He has feelings for you – yeah, you.
It’s a great, nearly unique notion that I only hope the music can match. The songs, the music — all of which are sung word for word by the entire audience for the entire 90-minute length of the show — are serviceable, and sometimes much better than just fine; a rousing cover of “What Makes You Beautiful” from his One Direction days hinted at what his unnecessarily restrained band seemed capable of delivering, and the sauntering, autumn-feeling Sunday ramble of “Keep Driving” offers a break from too many, However, even some of the blandly inspired tunes have an unexpected warmth to them.