Harry Styles walks a Fine Line between throwback rocker and boyish pop star — and his ability to straddle both sides of that line was on ample display on Friday night when he celebrated the debut of his second album with a special one night only show at The Forum in Los Angeles.
Styles brought out fans, famous and not-so-famous, in force to fete his new music. Sporting the hot pink shirt and high-waisted trousers from his album cover, he was in high spirits as he delivered a track-to-track performance of Fine Line, which had only debuted that day. Then, he followed up with an encore that included a guest duet with Stevie Nicks, a new take on a Christmas song, and some throwbacks to his earlier work.
EW was on the scene to bask in Fine Line’s entry into the world. Here were the night’s highlights.
While Styles will be touring for Fine Line in 2020, Friday marked a rare chance to hear him play his sophomore album live from track-to-track. He said himself this would likely be the only time he and this band do this, as the tour will invariably feature mixed-up set lists, combining songs off both his albums.
On the day Fine Line was first hitting fans’ ears, it was a divine sonic experience to encounter it in such an unfettered fashion. The joy and excitement around the record was palpable, a clear glee emanating from Styles as he played these songs to an arena-sized crowd for the first time. Getting to bask in it from track-to-track allows you to hear just what a rich album it is, as it flits from sad ballads to pulsing dance beats to elongated rock jams. All of this is clear and infinitely more soulful when heard live, particularly on a night when he was so evidently pouring his soul into the work. Many of the tracks sound even better in this context, deeper, more musically complex. The melancholy ballad “Falling” soared accompanied by the twinkling lights of thousands of cell phones and Styles reaching deep within himself. While more playful, bouncy tracks like “Canyon Moon” and “Sunflower, Vol. 6” felt all the more buoyant (and retro!), spreading their distinctive California sunshine within the dark halls of a concert venue.
Fine Line is unabashedly a pop-rock album, steeped in the traditions of 1970s California canyons, but that influence is more potent than ever when the songs are live, allowed to stretch into riffs and organic spaces, rather than finely-tuned for radio play. Played live, it’s a more dangerous, unpredictable, and engrossing album.
This approach to sharing Fine Line also granted Styles the chance to indulge the aspects of his persona his fans love — his style, his cheek, his love of dancing and messing about, and his focus on kindness and gratitude. Whether he’s charmingly teasing the audience for singing loudest on the lyric where he calls himself “an arrogant son of a bitch” or proclaiming that nothing makes him more hopeful than standing in front of us, every side of Styles was on electric display as he danced his way through the night, clearly having the time of his life.
Styles is a long-time acolyte of Fleetwood Mac and since striking out on his solo career has become close friends with Stevie Nicks. The two have duetted together several times, and Styles even gave the induction speech for Nicks’ solo entry into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this past spring. Throughout his tour for Sign of the Times, he mixed Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” into the set list, but on Friday, he had an even better surprise in store for fans.
Saying it really wouldn’t be an album launch without her, Styles brought Stevie Nicks out on stage to deafening screams. The two delivered a sterling duet of Nicks’ signature song “Landslide” that practically left tears in everyone’s eyes (including Harry’s). The emotional ballad sounded as good as it ever has with the duo’s harmonies on the chorus swirling to the rafters and bathing us in all their ’70s rock god and goddess glory (one real rock deity, one honorary). The landslide may bring you down, but this one couldn’t help but raise us up, pushing us all a little closer to the spiritual experience that seems to come anywhere Nicks happens to bring her distinctive pipes.
In spite of incredible, life-altering fame beginning in his teenage years, Styles never forgets where he comes from. That applies to his music too. Though Friday night was all about launching Fine Line into the world, there was still space for some old favorites. There was, of course, his two biggest hits off his freshman solo effort, Sign of the Times. Styles winkingly changed the words to the title song to go “Welcome to our very first show,” tipping his hand to this new chapter while singing his guts out on an old favorite. Then, he closed the show on “Kiwi,” a crowd favorite for its provocative lyrics, edgy guitar licks, and the opportunity to dance it out.
But most enjoyable of all, he took things back to the very beginning, delivering a rock infused take on One Direction mega-hit “That’s What Makes You Beautiful.” This redux of the song that permanently placed Styles in the hearts of millions of fans was about the furthest thing from its bubblegum roots as it could get, while still maintaining the irresistible hook and fizzy chorus that made it a hit to begin with. In his praise of the interests of teen girls in a recent Rolling Stone interview, Styles proved he’s not cynical or jaded in the least about the source of his success — and hearing this song live as he starts this new chapter was a meaningful testament to that.
Having a Wonderful Christmas Time
It’s December, which means that no matter your music taste you’ve likely heard a few holiday tunes out and about. Styles got in the holiday spirit with his own take on a modern Christmas classic, Paul McCartney and Wings’ “Wonderful Christmas Time.” Stressing that it was “almost Christmas,” Styles launched into his fellow Brit’s 1979 holiday track. If his infectious festive air wasn’t enough, Styles amped up the Christmas cheer when white confetti sprayed throughout the arena, creating the appearance of snow. We never thought we’d ask for a Harry Styles Christmas album, but this holiday treat has us hungry for at least a single. On a night filled with cheer and goodwill in so many forms, it was the sweetest nod to the season nestled among an already delightful encore.