This all started—for me, anyway—with a late-May text from my wife: “I think we’re Harry Styles fans now.”

The One Direction guy? Um… okay? Nothing against him—I knew he was a big pop star who was about to play a bunch of sold-out shows at Madison Square Garden, and more power to him for that—but really, Harry Styles? Feels like a hard left turn from what you’re normally into…

She was waiting by the door when I got home, squirming with excitement about the world she had just discovered. “Sit down,” she said. “We’re listening to Harry’s House.”

That first time through, I listened with a note of irony: “Okay, pop guy. You have my attention for a minute. Let’s pretend we’re teenage girls and give this a shot.” The second time, the irony was replaced by sheepish deflection: “You know, his band is actually really tight. The breakdown in that one song sorta sounded like Tame Impala, so that’s cool. Is it just me or does he get real romantic about food? I feel like I’d have to hear it again to figure out what that’s about. Let’s just run it back so I can hear those horn parts one more time.” By the third time, any stubborn pretense had been dropped. This was a really good album.

“Okay,” I relented. “We’re Harry Styles fans now.”

All throughout the summer, as we consumed our usual diet of live concerts—plenty of memorable nights with jam bands like Phish or Widespread Panic or Dead & Company, maybe some Rage Against The Machine mixed in for variety—we’d inevitably find a moment after the show to wrangle control of the Bluetooth in cars and tents and hotel rooms and throw on Harry’s House. Friends’ reactions seemed to mirror our own as “wait, why are we listening to this?” faithfully shifted to “this is actually pretty great” within the space of one “Music For A Sushi Restaurant”.

We had to go see Harry Styles at MSG. That’s what my wife told me, anyway. But that was okay—I had already been shopping for tickets for the 15-night run for weeks, and not just out of domestic necessity.

Maybe it was the “15 nights” thing that roped me in. That number was like a dog whistle for the hundreds of thousands who packed the Garden for Phish’s 13-night Baker’s Dozen residency in 2017, an achievement that still looms large from the arena’s rafters with the rest of its champions. While Harry’s run wouldn’t make a bid for that particular crown—his shows are not consecutive but rather spread over the course of a month—it was clear that something big was happening here.

Maybe it was the run’s slogan, “Madison Square Garden is Harry’s House.” He’s using the tagline at all of his Love On Tour arena residencies, but at MSG, a virtual “home court” for Phish since the year Harry was born, it struck a certain chord with a certain crowd. Don’t believe me? Cue: comment section. I’d imagine there’s a cache of Billy Joel diehards somewhere scoffing at the billing, too. The Piano Man himself seemed to have some fun with the notion during his show at the Garden last week.

But I didn’t need that competitive facade to justify my newfound Harry fandom to myself. There was something pure about the way I’d grown fond of this music: Someone plays you something. You like it. You get excited about it. You go see the artist when they come to town. I didn’t care about the media circus surrounding Styles, or the tabloid gossip, or his equal-parts obsessive and aggressive online fanbase. Frankly, I didn’t really know about any of it. I just thought he was cool (that one’s for the Harry fans).

We found ourselves some feather boas—it’s a thing—and overpaid for a pair of tickets for his fourth of 15 shows at the Garden on Friday, August 26th. We arrived through throngs of young girls and their requisite chaperones snapping selfies with the marquee on 8th Avenue and followed the trail of stray feathers into the venue just as Blood Orange finished his opening set. The energy in the arena grew steadily more ravenous through the intermission as we met the starry-eyed teenage fans (and their dad) in our row. They thought Harry was cool, too.

I’ve been lucky enough to catch Knicks game-winners, Rangers overtimes, New Year’s Eve balloon drops, and countless other thrilling moments at MSG, but I’ve never heard a roar engulf the place like it did when Harry Styles emerged via trapdoor in a pastel rainbow tracksuit to join his six-piece backing band onstage.

 

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Performing in the round from a stage at the center of the arena with catwalks stretching out toward either end of the floor, Styles darted back and forth throughout the set, making sure to court each corner of the arena with equal attention. The show, which played out in waves of Harry’s House songs (the ones I knew), old hits (the ones I didn’t), and affable banter, was notably light on the lavish accouterments one might have expected. Wardrobe changes, video components, pre-recorded backing tracks, pyrotechnics, and other such high-production pop concert elements were virtually nowhere to be found. While the distinctly Chris Kuroda-like moving light rig hanging overhead did add some visual magic to the proceedings, any dancing seemed loose and unchoreographed, any banter innocently aimless. Nobody seemed to mind.

Harry’s cool, comfortable charisma was the main event, and he carried it with a remarkable lack of pretension. By the time he made his nightly request to the crowd—for everyone to have as much fun as he was having—he had already set that bar quite high.

Here was one of the world’s biggest pop stars, at perhaps the biggest moment of his career, playing a massive residency at Madison Square Garden as his hit single was soaring back to the top of the charts for its eleventh week, and he had opted to streamline the scope of his production in favor of something “intimate,” a show that could easily have been dropped into a much smaller venue with minimal adjustments. At Harry’s House, it wasn’t about the flashiest surprises or the most dazzling dance moves or the most hair-raising singing. It was about good fun, good songs, good musicians, good-natured gratitude for a chance to grace this storied stage yet again.

Even his game show-style search for Golf Dads™ in the crowd came off with a playful touch, however red I may have turned when the girls in our row turned to me and told me that this was “my time to shine.” I don’t golf and I’m not a dad, but the ring on my finger and the bald spot on the top of my head certainly didn’t dissuade that designation in a Harry Styles MSG crowd. I’d imagine most of the fans in attendance couldn’t have legally ordered the concession stand beer I was nursing, and I’m willing to bet that even less got the Dr. Strangelove reference in this piece’s title (that one’s for the Golf Dads; I hope you, too, enjoyed the shortest men’s bathroom lines in the history of MSG).

The screaming never quite abated while Harry was on stage. Instead, it flowed into sing-alongs on every number, the capacity crowd in perfect sync with every word, more than a hint of hysteria apparent in their excitement. Excuse me, our excitement; I can’t claim to have been immune to that buzz.

As Styles and company blasted through the end of their set with help from a three-piece horn section (featuring former The Motet member Parris Fleming!), my mind drifted back to that first day I heard Harry’s new album—when the idea of listening to a Harry Styles record felt uncharacteristic and the thought of MSG as “Harry’s House” seemed absurd. Now, standing here among the teens and the screams and the feathers after a summer of repeat spins and Styles evangelism, I was ready to hand him the keys. This was a party worthy of its revered home. We can call it a timeshare.

For a complete list of upcoming Harry Styles Love On Tour dates at MSG and elsewhere, head here.

 

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