In the short-term world of pop music, one year is a long time to wait for a concert, and it looked as if some of Harry Styles’ luster had worn off since Sunday’s Xcel Energy Center concert was announced last summer. Tickets nose-dived to as cheap as single digits on resale sites. His songs dwindled in local radio rotation, too.
Somebody forgot to tell the 16,000 or so Minnesota fans who showed up in St. Paul that Styles had suffered a downturn, though. Because they went ballistic when he took the stage to the tune of “Only Angel.” And they stayed that way for the entire 100-minute performance, a good chunk of which warranted their enthusiasm.
Wearing a blouse-like, gold-lame shirt that could’ve been lifted from a Paisley Park closet, the first and best-known castaway of the British boy band One Direction also didn’t lack zeal on his end.
This was the umpteenth stop on the 24-year-old singer’s world tour, but his voice held up strong, his band sounded extra-tight and his personality came through in fun, looser spats.
In the year since Styles’ show was announced, two of his One Direction bandmates came to Xcel Center as part of the KDWB Jingle Ball; one played more of a sexed-up, bad-boy dance-pop stud (Liam Payne), and the other passed for a softer, tender-hearted acoustic strummer (Niall Horan).
Styles’ performance found a middle-ground between those two styles and added some classic-rock flavor, too. It was a good balance.
The rocky side showed up early with the Elton John-plunky “Woman” and a few songs later with the night’s heaviest number, “Medicine,” during which Styles made a case for becoming Steven Tyler’s replacement in Aerosmith. Even the one One Direction song dropped in between, “Stockholm Syndrome,” was given a rockier, raspier edge — a tact that actually seemed to confuse the crowd, but otherwise worked.
Styles explained the night’s game plan before revisiting that first 1D tune.
“It really means a lot you came, because I do only have one album, 10 songs,” he said, “but we will be doing a lot more than that tonight.”
Other additions to the set list included a song that Styles wrote and Ariana Grande recorded, “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” (which deserved to be given away), plus a cover for the moms and dads in attendance, Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” (mostly a showpiece for his band).
He also dropped in two more 1D songs, “What Makes You Beautiful” and “If I Could Fly.” He sang the latter accompanied only by acoustic guitar on the smaller B-stage at the far end of the arena.
That B-stage mini-performance turned out one of the show’s most memorable moments: A group of fans using the Twitter handle @HarryProjectMN had placed cut-up, pink Post-It Notes on every seat in the lower and upper bowls with instructions to stick them over cell-phone flashlights during “Sweet Creature” (also performed unplugged). It worked as well as more formal, hi-fi lighting trickery used by Taylor Swift and Coldplay audiences.
The night’s other standout moment predictably came when Styles arrived at “Sign of the Times,” the power ballad that earned him such a major buzz a year ago. No, he didn’t reach the wowza high notes heard near the end of the recorded version. He nonetheless milked the song for all its dramatic worth, clinging the microphone stand and swaying dramatically in a lonely spotlight.
Styles got a little goofy here and there, too, eschewing the night’s otherwise mature vibe with charming results. When one fan inexplicably threw her cell phone onto the stage, he had a field day ringing up the girl’s mother to tattle on her — and it turned out Mom was watching from another part of the arena.
And when a fan bravely swung a sign that read, “Because of you, I’m coming out tomorrow,” Styles praised the thought but pointed out, “You sort of just came out now.” He’s got wit to boot, too.
While Styles successfully moved past his more saccharine roots, Kacey Musgraves went the opposite way in her opening slot. You maybe wouldn’t have known the Texas twanger was either Texan or had country roots throughout the first half of her set, laden with songs from her new pop-crossover album, “Golden Hour.”
Going pop is fine, but Musgraves’ sass and character from her prior outings was glaringly absent in the light, fluttery “Butterflies” and disco-fluffed “High Horse.” Ironically, she did finally turn on the twang for a cool twist on Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” Along with the country hit “Follow Your Arrow,” it was the best thing in her set.
Here’s the full Styles set list from Sunday:
Ever Since New York
Just a Little Bit of Your Heart
Meet Me in the Hallway
If I Could Fly
What Makes You Beautiful
Sign of the Times
From the Dining Table