These days, Madison Square Garden is Billy Joel’s house. New York’s resident “Piano Man” has pretty much owned the Big Apple arena since he started his monthly residency there in Jan. 2014.
But on Saturday night, MSG was transformed into “Harry’s House,” as Harry Styles brought his Love on Tour 2022 trek to the iconic venue for the first of 15 — yes, 15! — sold-out concerts that will run through Sept. 21.
In effect, the 28-year-old pop phenomenon is having his own residency at the world’s most famous arena, doing more shows in just one month than Joel would do in a year.
And of course, the pop universe has basically been Harry’s world since he dropped his third solo album, “Harry’s House,” in May, celebrating it with a release-day concert at the new UBS Arena in Long Island. But he managed to turn MSG into an intimate room where every one of his screaming and squealing fans — decked out in feather boas, sequins and glitter, whatever the gender — felt seen and heard in a communal safe space.
“Good evening, New York. My name is Harry,” said the ridiculously charming superstar — who obviously needed no introduction — to one of many deafening roars. “Please feel free to be who you always wanted to be in this room tonight.”
In that moment, you could feel the Cult of Harry.
He may be a millennial heartthrob, but he is bringing back the peace and free love vibes of the ’60s. Therein lies the power of Styles, who is not the best singer, not the best musician, and certainly not the best dancer. But he can carry and own the stage with a minimal amount of the typical production bells and whistles — no backup dancers necessary — required for an arena show.
That was apparent from the moment he came out bounding and bopping across the stage — with his forever-floppy hair — to “Daydreaming,” the opener that is one of the tracks from the excellent “Harry’s House” that dominated his setlist.
Perpetually skipping across the in-the-round stage — the better for him to work all four sides of the Garden with his delightfully dorky dance moves — his infectious giddiness was undeniable.
But there was also more musical sophistication than you might have expected from the One Direction alum, who paid homage to his former boy band by reworking and reenergizing their biggest hit, “What Makes You Beautiful.” He deepened the funk of his first Grammy-winning hit “Watermelon Sugar” and took the smooth-cruising “Late Night Talking” — his current single — into Steely Dan territory.
And there was even a sly bit of the Village People’s “YMCA” — which many of the young audience probably didn’t get — before he swaggered into the horned-up sexiness of “Music for a Sushi Restaurant.”
But it was Styles’ No. 1 smash “As It Was” — which has topped the charts for 10 weeks this year — that had the Garden levitating from the collective pogoing happening all around.
In the middle of Styles’ residency — with British alt-R&B artist Blood Orange opening for all 15 concerts — the Garden will return to being Billy’s house when Joel takes back over for a concert on Wednesday. But on Saturday night—and for 14 more nights to come—MSG all belonged to Harry.