Olympic Park stadium, March 3
WE SHOULD CALL HIM HAROLD, for it suits the age. Not his chronological one, but that in which H.E. Styles, late of Holmes Chapel and Los Angeles, operates as this decade’s all-purpose, all-ages British showman. The fun time to be had by all.
Each generation gets one: yours may have been Robbie Williams, perhaps Tom Jones or – hello grandma! – Tommy Steele, but the basics remain. A bit of cheek, a bit of sexiness and a bit of charm; some swing in the hips but not a fancy dancer; a way with a gag that slides past too-busy-grinning censors; a past as a teen favourite, a present encompassing their parents who always secretly enjoyed him but now get the wider musical influences, and a future equally at home in stadiums, cabarets and screens.
“It’s a family show, a family show,” he declared mid-evening. “… or is it?”
Oh, yes. And a swag of songs that just keep hitting the sweet spot.
That? Yeah Harold’s got that. Giddy and sunny, like Golden and Satellite, gossamer tunes that lean bright (Golden) and wistful (Satellite) but really operate dead centre pleasure. Or buoyantly joyful like Treat People With Kindness, which segued into What Makes You Beautiful (the one 1D song offered), a combination that would have blown off the roof if this stadium had one.
Loosely funky, like Cinema (whose oo-er nurse line, “You pop when we get intimate”, harks to a golden age of British cinema) and Late Night Talking, that might have fit in on a One Direction set list. Or grand pop gesturing, like Sign Of The Times, the heavily-laden, arms-linked, sing-it-together-brothers-and-sisters ballad which is his version of Robbie Williams’ Angels, and a bold resetting at the beginning of the encore.
And of course, slinky and suggestive, like Watermelon Sugar, which may or may not be about a certain sexual act but is definitely a way to spring-load a stadium audience for the sprint to the end of the set.
Given he isn’t a natural with the banter yet, the showman needs more things to drop into this brew than sugar of course. Though even as Styles’ style is an entertainment round on its own - tonight a yellow and blue, sequin-studded suit over a white singlet and (the return of the ‘80s!) Adidas sneakers - I don’t mean clothes.
His penchant for some beefy guitar moves puts the relatively ordinary Woman - only the bland Love Of My Life lands lower - squarely in an ‘80s rock parade, while Matilda and Little Freak, sung out on the edge of the satellite stage, pull everything back to delicate singer/songwriter fare.
Throw in a birthday cake for two of the band, a cat photo and a coming out message from a couple of audience members, and some judicious “Sydney whoo!”-ing and old school showbiz is in the house.
Ladies and gentlemen, Harold is in the house.
A version of this review was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald.