Gina Arnold
Jul 19, 2018 · 6 min read

Caitlin said, “Can you pick me and my friends up after the Harry Styles show tomorrow?” I was like, “Sure,” and then I thought, ‘Wait a second! That’s not how I roll!’

I still read the rock press, so I know Harry’s solo work (from his self-titled album Harry Styles) is supposed to be better than that, and that he was in Dunkirk, that he dated Taylor Swift and that he is moderately cute. But what I really know is what this kind of show — whoever the singer — is like. The earth-shattering screams. The heaving masses. The little girls jumping up and down and weeping with excitement, the hand holding, the ear-splitting, the mouth-stretching energy that pours out of their bodies…You’d have to be a monster not to want to get a piece of that — albeit a monster who hasn’t seen Monsters Inc, in which the whole world is powered on the screams of children.

I’m not, which is why I am here inside instead of waiting in the parking lot, teetering up the metal stairs to the top of the venue, peering down at the stage from on high. Below me stretches a thousand aisles of partly empty seats, and at the end of each one is a couple of girls in a party frock, posing themselves for selfies with the stage below as the background. I can almost feel all the simultaneous snapchats being sent, like electrical current through my veins. All are decorated with the same badges and stickers and exclamation points: “AT HARRY STYLES!”

Normally, ice hockey arenas are just these vast, sterile, cold cages of air. But when that air gets puffed up with ecstasy, they can become almost holy, and this was that night — maybe in part because the energy in the room was entirely female. You’d think that Harry Styles might have a modicum of gay male fans, and no doubt he does. But they weren’t very present on this particular night; the place was full to the brim with women, and that in itself was kind of fun and relaxing. At one point, I looked behind me and saw exactly two men in my section, and one of them was clearly someone’s father and the other a bored boyfriend.

Presently, the lights came down and the opening act, Kacey Musgraves, came on. You wouldn’t think she’d be a good fit for Harry Styles, but in fact, she’d be a good opening act for anyone in the sense that she is just unambiguously awesome. Her music sounds like the 5thDimension meets Tanya Tucker, but despite its smooth jazz vibe, she radiates authenticity to the point where her transformative version of the Gnarles Barkley song “Crazy,” which featured horns and a cello, didn’t even smack of appropriation; by the time she got to her gay pride anthem “Follow Your Arrow,” the audience rose up and cheered. Clad in a blue spangled body suit and thigh high black boots, she mopped up even the chatterers (like the girls in the seats next to me): after her set I overheard one of them say, “I thought I didn’t like country music but I guess actually do!!”

In between acts, the crowd danced and sang to a medley of hits from the 1970s, songs by the BeeGees and Elton John and Queen. Then the song “Olivia,” by 1-D (the massively popular boy band from whence Harry Style came), came on, and the place exploded, never to really be put back together. From that moment on, the room fomented, and when Harry arrived on stage, it blew. No one sat down for the next 90 minutes as he trucked through his entire solo record (“Sign of the Times,” “Sweet Creature,” “Carolina,” etc.) with a few additional 1 D songs (“Stockholm Syndrome,” “That’s What Makes You Beautiful”) and a cover (Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”). With the exception of the first named and the last named song, I wasn’t familiar with the music, but there was a ton to like about this show anyway, from the fact that it was stripped down stage to his truly awesome drummer, Sarah Jones, who was in the bands Bat For Lashes and Hot Chip, and has her own band Pillow Person. I sort of wish this was a blog about Sarah, but it’s still cool that Harry hired her. Anyway, he can play his own guitar, and that’s a lot more than you can say about Justin Bieber.

Beyond that, there is not much to say about Harry Styles…except that there sort of is. On the one hand, as indicated, Harry Styles is kind of bland and corporate. Nevertheless, he pulls it off. The skill he wields and the persona he exudes is gentle, soft-hearted even — his tour T shirt read, “treat people with kindness,” and that sentiment, which describes either his core values or those of his audience, are surely nothing to smirk at. Also — and I can’t quite articulate this — but you have to understand that I have billions of years experience at these things, my not-so-secret power is that I can totally grok their nuances, and the nuance of this show was this: although everyone in the audiences had previously loved One D, and currently love Harry Styles, there was some kind of layer of irony shooting through their fandom — irony, or nostalgia, or just self-knowingness, a sort of sly undercurrent of laughter about the funniness of their fandom, and the best part about this was that Harry himself was in on the joke. Everyone there was laughing at themselves together, in the best possible way.

So it didn’t matter that I wasn’t in the magic circle. I got the feeling that was in every heart in there very well, because it’s primal. Yes, choirly voices, high pitched screams and the utterly basic joy of singing along with ten thousand people is very much my wheelhouse, and it is not to be dismissed or downplayed. It is so worth participating in.

What I mean to say is, we are all so jaded now. The harsh edges and quirks and groans I look for in other acts have all been filled in here, as if with musical caulk, or that kind of makeup which smooths out every crease. You know the deep scary gothic-ness of Nick Cave? Harry Styles is the actual, literal, opposite of that, the anti-Cave, performing purity and light. For some reason, as I watched him sing and dance and heard the loud collective love for him charge through the room like a storm, I thought of the Thai cave boys and their miraculous return this week, rescued by bravery and kindness and luck.

These are dark times, but you can keep your chin up As I said, you’d have to be a monster to not want to be a part of this. And since the older I get, the more monsters I become aware of, it’s good to run into a knight now and again.

Originally published at on July 19, 2018.

Fools Rush In Again

Former East Bay Express columnist Gina Arnold revisits her old mode of communication. Only this time, you can reply!

Gina Arnold

Written by

Author, “Route 666,” “Exile In Guyville,” “Half A Million Strong.” Editor: The Oxford Handbook of Punk. (Forthcoming).

Fools Rush In Again

Former East Bay Express columnist Gina Arnold revisits her old mode of communication. Only this time, you can reply!

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