Published Jun 17, 2018Before Harry Styles took the stage for a headlining appearance at the Air Canada Centre, his audience was already hysterical. A tongue-in-cheek sing-along to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" played out in the stands, but quickly engulfed into a weighty choir as One Direction's "Olivia," from 2015's Made in the A.M played over the sound system. There might be a generation gap, but it felt like Toronto was about to be given something much more vital.
The "Should we just search romantic comedies on Netflix and see what we find?" sound bite off of Styles' 2017 debut was an alarming introductory piece of audio, extending the pre-show excitement into a deafening climax. He took to the stage in a pink pleated suit, performing "Only Angel" with a pizazz that lies somewhere between peak Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart with stronger pop sensibilities.
Continuing with the unapologetic earworm "Woman" and warm, harmonic cut "Ever Since New York," Styles commanded the crowd with grace. His vocals were sometimes pitchy — likely a result of being on the road since March — but any gaffes were masked by Styles' senseless audience participation. The mid-fi tendencies of "Meet Me in the Hallway" were abandoned in favour of stadium rock sleaze, which sucked away some of the track's charm, but Styles presented a sharp falsetto tone to recoup.
He abandoned the stage halfway through the song, parading across the floor to the ACC's adjacent Stage B. A fitting visual; Styles was not doing much of anything at this point, but managed to win over the room in this moment with the essence of his charm. He can play pop-rock songs, or just smile — his devotees will swoon regardless.
Album highlight "Two Ghosts" was one of the stumbles of the evening. The song's pleasant twang was muffled by the extravagant brooding in Styles' lower vocal register, which also drowned out scandalous lyrics that are speculated to be about his relationship with Taylor Swift. Some may call it shallow storytelling, but Styles seemed content with singing self-righteous lyrics "There's not a drink that I think could sink her" and "Woke up the girl who looks just like you / I almost said your name" later on.
Styles admitted later on that it is "a bit insane" that he can headline an arena tour with only ten songs to his name, but thanked Canada for being "so welcoming to me, and to everyone else." He busted out several choice covers to supplement his thin repertoire. Styles played self-written One Direction track "Stockholm Syndrome," which recalls the melody of Tears For Fears' "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" with a rocker zest so infectious that he barely had to sing into his microphone.
Following that, he played "Just a Little Bit of Your Heart" by Ariana Grande, which she performed so well that he "had to give it away." While Styles gave an apt demonstration of the tune's sombre melodies, he proved that the song still suits Grande much better. "If I Could Fly" and radio smash "What Makes You Beautiful" demonstrated that he was the apex of 1D, but fumbles with his new persona as he tried to comfortably cover vocal and guitar duties. Last of his covers was "The Chain," which through viral live appearances with Fleetwood Mac and his BBC Radio Lounge cover has exposed Generation Z to the legacy of their songwriting. His performance was sizably comparable, but agree or disagree; he is doing justice for the ongoing Fleetwood legacy.
His lesser-known tracks were some of the evening's highlights, as "Anna" (which paces along at a similar tempo to George Michael's "Faith" and Bow Wow Wow's "I Want Candy") and Medicine" were rock-leaning unabridged moments of fun. By his final encore of "Kiwi," Styles had demonstrated that he can consistently give Toronto high-energy performances that meander between folky love songs and full-on arena rock swank.
Earlier, Kacey Musgraves was an enchanting outcast for the plentiful ACC audience, dressed in all black before a vehement crowd pressed to see their adored curly-haired One Direction member. "There's room for every kind of person here, and even in country music that's what I believe"; a telling statement from the Tennessee singer, as her set was otherwise only material of this year's Golden Hour, which has received critical acclaim for its gifted blend of pop, country and disco. It was evident that Styles' fans outnumbered hers, but Musgraves' supporters showed love by singing the provocative hook of 2013's "Follow Your Arrow."
The track showed its age as she grinned through some of her more juvenile lyrics, but was redeemed by seamless performances of recent tracks "Butterflies," "Rainbow" and a high-registered rendition of "Wonder Woman." Between those songs and her unexpectedly chilling cover of "Crazy" by Gnarles Barkley, it is certain that Musgraves converted many ex-Directioners into yeehaw-yelling, roller skating country/disco hybrid fans.