Niall Horan At the Beacon Theatre, Tuesday, October 31st, 2017, Reviewed
We all love this game. Harry is Paul, Zayn is John, Liam and Louis are Ringo, so that must make Niall Horan… George!!! And similar to George Harrison, Niall’s debut solo album is the bestseller in the post-superstar boy band stakes. This ain’t N’Sync guys, there is more than one Justin Timberlake in the brood of second act soloists, and last night, as the Flicker Sessions touched down for 3,000 screaming teenage girls and me, Niall made sure to mention that Flicker the album is #1 in the land.
But before we get to Niall, let’s take a moment to appreciate the splendid opening act, one Gavin James –an Irish singer songwriter with a penchant for the soppy. Gavin looks a little like when you meet a handsome actors big brother and while you can see a familial similarity, the big brother is just ordinary looking. Gavin is Niall’s physical big brother. And his material, performed with just a guitar last night, can get a little on the wet side. Taking that into account, he was extremely charming and clever, whether pushing the audience for singalongs on songs they don’t know, performing a song they do know without any amplification at all, or nailing his latest single, “Hearts On Fire,” the man gives a performance. Gavin can go from a whisper to a scream to… a husk? Gavin ended his evening with a spot on Louis Armstrong imitation and had all the girls growling “and I say to myself what a wonderful world…”
Gavin is 26 years of age, Niall is 24 , and the audience are in their mid-teens. The difference between Niall’s fans and Harry Style’s fans, as witnessed at Radio City Music Hall in September, is Harry’s is wider and deeper, Harry gets the 20 somethings and their Moms: he is a rock star and Niall is a renegade singer songwriter, plugged into his 1D audience. As Sophia Simon-Bashall wrote in an excellent live review of Niall on “The Line Of Best Fit,” (here) One Direction had “the ability to make fans feel safe, feel held,” and more than Harry, who, for all his sweetness, is a nascent rock star of the highest proportions, or Zayn, who is a sulking presence in the middle of pop, Niall showed exactly that quality at the Beacon last night. A sort of open handed, full voiced sweet connection that treated his audience with respect and a playfulness that reached its height as he shared the first song of the encore, and, besides an interspersed “New York, New York,” the only song not on Flicker, One Direction’s “Fool’s Gold,” with the fans. To claim they knew the words is an understatement; they took the song and dissolved into it. It was moving, it was everything you hope from the world of pop, gentle from Niall to the young women and gentle from the young women to Niall
But the performance was a little bland if you weren’t a teenager, Niall is less convincing as a songwriter than he is as a teen idol. As a teen idol he opened his concerns to his audience, expressed where he is coming from, Mulligan, Ireland (“two high schools and 26 pubs in one mile”), where he is going, a mid-paced folk-rock romantic Sturm und Drang, and how he plans to get there: with a 70s style rock band right behind (four of them from Ireland and a token Englishman) him; Niall’s keeps his acoustic guitar nearby most of the time. He knows where he is as well, though wandering around Manhattan he mentions being surprised by all the people coming up to him in costumes till he realizes it is Halloween. Both Gavin and Niall mention the terrorist attack that had killed eight people in Lower Manhattan barely five hours earlier, Niall dedicates the title track to the victims, and while he actually meant to say he was performing it in their memory, we got the point. He also considers the title track the best song he has written, and he is wrong on the record, where it is beaten out by Don McLean soundalike and hit single “This Town,” not to mention “Seeing Blind” and “Fire Away,” on stage his intensely felt performance lifts it a notch.
Niall is a tousled blonde turning to brown haired, well fit, bad boy past his bad boy stage. Gone is the teen who called the girls in a Dublin airport “A shower of cunts” (the spin: it isn’t an insult in Ireland… you don’t believe Me? Go to Mulligan and try saying it for yourself) to be replaced by a strong and gentle man performing strong and gentle love songs. The audience bring the energy that the performance misses, and while I am getting sick of hitting Niall with Harry, Harry brought his own energy. Niall is intense and kindly, he doesn’t brood but rather, like his wide face, he keeps his emotions wide open. The performance is static but enjoyable, until the penultimate song of the evening, a knees up to “Slow Hands,” he allows the audience to sing along but seems to be smiling at them from a distance. The material isn’t rotten though any way he shuffles the songs off the album, he can’t build momentum. He reminds me a little of McCartney on the first Wings tour, there is a refusal to really think through his past history. He could have added a couple of covers, and maybe one more 1D, and given a full 90 minutes in a more rounded performance.
Still, it was a real treat for the fans and Niall is great company. The 1D solo career hasn’t hit a bump yet.