I don’t really get to experience ‘event’ concerts like this, sure I get to see some of my favourite bands in smaller venues play perfect sets, but it is rare I get to come to the big smoke and hit the iconic stadium. In fact, kids, the last time I was here was to see Oasis. In 22, the sort of artist who plays here, you know the type, the little ginger troll and his fellow middle of the roaders, are not places for me. But Harry Styles, well everyone loves Harry Styles don’t they?
The Wembley Stadium experience begins the second you get off the tube and see the impressive building from the top of the stairs. Suddenly everyone is as one, there are smiles all around, you look down and see a veritable ocean of people and all of them are here to see one of the world’s top popsters.
The sun is out, so it is into the outdoor bar for a couple of Budweisers, nothing too crazy, no one wants to forget what we are about to see, but it is great for people watching and the DJ is blasting the tunes as we watch thousands more people arrive. The excitement is building, the air is full fo electricity. Whether it is the kids at their first gig, or older punters at their fiftieth, it is obvious that this is a special event and we have come from all corners of the globe for a little taste of Watermelon Sugar.
I’m about halfway back on the mid deck, I watch as the front section fills up quickest and then the rest of the pitch is taken over by those lucky or rich enough to get those tickets. I see more feather boas than I have seen since the Generation Terrorists hey day of the Manic Street Preachers. And I watch the crowd watch themselves, sending Tik Toks to the world, I guess this is the biggest difference with modern gigs – some fans watch the entire gig through their phone, filming the songs and more commonly filming themselves singing the songs. It is kinda weird, they miss the actual thing happening in front of them, to say digitally “Hey, look what’s happening!” I guess I am just as confused by the kids constantly checking their phones as they walk down the street, it is just how things happen now, but I just find it a little strange. I get my phone out to take a few shots and a few little 30 second videos, but I live the gig live.
Boy, the kids also really love Kate Bush now. I have not seen Stranger Things and have only read about Running Up That Hill being massive on socials but the second it spins out over the speakers, the entire stadium is up and dancing, not just singing the little chorus bits, the twenty year olds next to me know all the words. Every one. And they are definitely not alone.
I have to admit, I have no history with Mitski. When I heard she was supporting, I checked out her album but did not really take to it. But then I also saw a million videos online of crowds going absolutely crazy to her shows, so I was interested to see. Also my sister sent me a message saying “I have been asked if Mitski is supporting tonight?” It seems my 15 year old darling niece is a massive fan and was super jealous of this, perhaps even more than Harry. Well, Lani, I get it now. Mitski was incredible. The crowd reaction was not that of a support act, they were cheering every song, or more telling, every move. It was a Madonna style celebration of the human body, with Mitski providing intelligent pop chops with seductive Mads style moves and the entire stadium going crazy with each and every brush of the shoulder or caress of the chest. Again, they knew every word, every move, every meaning, this is surely going to be one of the biggest artists of the next year and already has the ‘cult following’ that every new artist must pray for. And the voice…wow. The power surfed straight to the back of the stadium, utterly captivating. To show you which ballpark we are in, I guess you could say that it is a conglomeration of Dry-era PJ Harvey and Florence Welch at the top her game. Add a touch of Self Esteem and you have one incredible support act who will be filling Brixton Academy before you can say “Like a virgin”. Get ye to Spotify, now.
And then the stadium was full. The air was electric. The screens flickered and off we went for one of the best pop shows I have ever seen. Sure, starting with my favourite song from the third album was a classic Harry move. ‘Music For A Sushi Restaurant’ is even more joyous IRL and everyone was giving it a “Dubawub” and a “Doobadub” or whatever the nonsense bits of that chorus are. Magical. And the sparkles didn’t fade, ‘Lights Up’ and ‘Golden’ were tossed out early, but if you have been onboard since the start of this adventure, you’ll know there are plenty of magic moments on all three solo records. And we get some of the best tonight. So many, that you forget that you have not heard ‘Adore You’ yet. Songs like ‘Treat People With Kindness’ soar to the heavens, which presumably is where they were created. It is classic after classic and my heart was singing throughout. Sure, being a ‘serious’ music fan involves a lot of cynicism, but sometimes an act is so genuine that you can just fall into their genius. Harry Styles live is one of those moments. We even get the classic Freddie Mercury ‘call and response’ routine, which was just amazing and Styles seems to realise the gravitas of playing here and its history.
‘Watermelon Sugar’? Incredible. As on the albums, my favourite track remains ‘Sign Of The Times’ and here, as the light falls and the fireworks explode, it takes on a life of its own and is another perfect highlight. But wait, I forgot to mention ‘What Makes You Beautiful’. Yes, we get a little piece of One Direction magic and brilliantly, my Twitter mafia later has photos of Niall Horan in attendance, you wonder why Harry didn’t bring him up for this song, but I may have lost my mind. ‘As It Was’ is greeted like an old friend and ‘Kiwi’ climaxes the night, more fireworks, Styles like a little silver pinball, running through the run ways, the crowds on the floor doing congas, little pop centipedes leading each other into pop nirvana.
Yes, this was event entertainment. A girl behind me says “Well, that was my favourite concert ever” Instead of just celebrating the joy, the parent says “Well, you’ve only been to two! We will have to see how Ed is!” I shake my head. This woman has just seen one of the world’s best at the top of his game and still craves the aforementioned ginger troll because “Well, you have to be great to get up there with just a guitar” It took everything in my body not to snap like a turtle at this, the ‘authenticity’ clause, when you’re in a stadium of 90, 000 people, all of whom aside from you have had the absolute best night of the year, just share your daughter’s joy for Christ’s sake. Sure I love prog rock and can sit and chat about Pink Floyd for three hours at the best of times, but right here, right now, there was nowhere I would rather be and nothing I would rather hear than these incredible songs. It was prime Elton, meets prime Daltrey, meets Queen, meets KISS, meets McCartney. And when there are so many comparisons, the result is a totally unique performer that after the hullabaloo of the recent lockdown years, we should be glad to take into our hearts.
Yes, it is ‘just pop music’, but also, that is the most important thing in the world. And I loved it.