BY MELISSA RUGGIERI/AJC Music Scene
With his sculpted cheekbones, casual coolness and suave accent, it’s no surprise that Harry Styles has already become the Justin Timberlake of One Direction.
That Styles possesses the swoopy hair and, most importantly, the innate musical chops similar to the successful Boy Bander Gone Before makes his solo breakout all the more impressive.
Currently packing clubs around the country on an insta-sell-out tour that played the Coca-Cola Roxy on Sunday night, Styles already has his next move planned – a 2018 spin around the world that will return him to Atlanta June 11 at Infinite Energy Arena.
Undoubtedly, many of the same 3,000-plus who jammed the Roxy will tote either their parents or their wine glasses – the crowd spanned pre-teens to mid-lifers – to the bigger venue next year, where they will reminisce about having shared a much more intimate 90 minutes with the effortlessly dashing Styles.
As he confessed early in the show, “I’m very aware I only have 10 songs…my job is to try to entertain you for a while and your job is to have as much fun (as you can).”
But even with a slim catalog, Styles and his taut four-piece band built an engaging presentation that focused on his self-titled debut, nodded to his mega-famous past and allowed for a couple of covers.
Taking the stage to the harmonically rich guitar-strummer “Ever Since New York,” Styles could barely be heard over the robust singing of the crowd. Fans thrust their phones in the air and swayed to the dreamy “Two Ghosts,” another lush and lovely offering from his album that fit the slow-burn pacing of the show.
One imagines that Styles is relishing these relatively petite audiences compared to the stadium madness that followed One Direction for several years. His performance of two of the group’s ubiquitous hits – “Story of My Life,” recast with racing drums and a vague rootsiness and “What Makes You Beautiful,” dusted with a ‘60s Sonny & Cher vibe – was energetic and fizzy, an indication that he really does enjoy playing these songs.
What makes Styles’ solo debut so refreshing is his ability to meld elements of Harry Nilsson, David Bowie and Robbie Williams, adapt it for a new generation, but still hang onto its roots. The deep groove and prominent keyboards on “Woman” owe more than a bit to Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road”-era work, a sign of the soulfulness that Styles is capable of unleashing.
His stage presence isn’t overly manic or filled with forced movements (though his double-hand kisses blowing could be reined in), but illuminates Styles’ loose charm.
He pumped his elbows as he swirled around the stage for the candy-coated rocker “Only Angel,” hoisted a fan’s rainbow flag at the end of “…Beautiful” and turned on the balladeer allure for “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart,” a Styles composition made familiar by Ariana Grande.
But Styles has a maverick side that he uncorked during a potent, light-flashing, drum-pounding “Kiwi” – a song that the audience loved so much, he revisited it during the encore.
At only 23, Styles is stuffed with potential. His lyrics tend to rely too much on repetition, but he’s already such an intuitive songwriter with a gift for melody and an appreciation of classic modern music that he’s savvy enough to continue to learn from the best.
Let’s hope he chooses his next steps wisely.