Photo via @harrystyles on Instagram
It was Monday in Williamsburg, and North 9th Street was covered with a lineup of teenage girls; most skipping school, some finals, and tests to see ultimate boy band messiah, Harry Styles. Though it was barely 11 a.m. on a weekday, as Z100 interns passed out the ever so exclusive “Meet and Greet” stickers and taped wristbands onto shaking limbs, the atmosphere was almost tangible with anticipation and raw excitement. This aura only grew as Rough Trade employees began leading concertgoers in five at a time, swallowing them into the womb of suits and no-nonsense security guards trying to get this exclusive show on the road.
For all those who have never been in the presence of the Brooklyn fixture, Rough Trade is your classic dimly lit record shop, complete with a small stage and bar that some generously call a venue. About two years ago, I waited in a snowstorm to witness Frank Iero (formerly a guitarist for My Chemical Romance) and The Celebration, an alternative band with a loyal and rather niche following, which is what most artists who take over the shop’s stage entail. The very idea of the venue housing A-list pop heartthrob, turned Father John Misty-esque performer, would be considered laughable, and even as I stood pressed against the modest stage, I still couldn’t help but notice how surreal the entire situation was.
Upon entrance, bags were checked and cell phones were sealed in locked cases to secure that no one would be recording the uber secret event. Due to the lack of technology, and therefore ways of typical entertainment, conversations filled the room; most of these consisting of how long patrons had been fans of One Direction and declarations of adoration for Styles’ new take on writing. Probably the best talk I participated in was a rather heated debate on whether or not the long, Made In The A.M. era hair suited Harry more than his recently cropped locks. After about five minutes of verbal combat, propped with photographic evidence, we came to a stalemate that maybe he’s just gorgeous with anything.
Soon, the background music (a mashup of Ed Sheeran’s latest album) began to fade, and as the lighting began to dim, so did the audience’s noise, only to be raised to a deafening level as the very much real Harry Styles entered the stage, dawned in an all black wrap around style suit and iridescent Gucci loafers. As the former One Direction member approached the microphone, I felt a rush of adrenaline and unconfined emotion, not just from the singer at hand, but the energy of those around me. It had power over the small group and the evidence was nearly tangible.
If I were to take anything from this hour-long blur, it's that essentially, there’s nothing Harry isn’t inherently good at. His stage banter is amazing, raising the dimples on his cheeks and topping it all off with animated motions. He’s silly and charming and overall just kind of the dream boy next door who’d you never actually live anywhere near. Within a crowd of 50 people, Harry worked the audience like any other stadium show, yelling out remarks such as, “Go back to school!” and, “Oh, you mean these ol’ things?" as he twirled around the cream ruffled cuffs at the bottom of his dress pants. This was the first and most likely last show this size that Styles would be playing and there was something beautiful about that: the sheer intimacy fuelling the moment. When staring into the eyes of your sixth-grade crush himself, it was hard not to absorb the subtle cogs winding around the experience: the backup band complete with classical guitars and vintage floral button ups; Harry squinting his eyes and widening his lips to ring out the ending “la la la's" in “Carolina” (which he was playing live for the first time). Even just being able to look at those pressed up against me with my actual eyes, instead of through the lens of my iPhone. This experience was rare and just like the size of the audience, it would probably never happen again.
After belting the power ballad “Sign of The Times”, Harry closed the show with “Ever Since New York”, a tribute to what was most likely the McCarren Hotel two blocks down. During the repetitive chorus, Harry continuously tilted the microphone towards the crowd, revelling as the lyrics were sung back to him. “It’s so cool when you guys do that,” he remarked.
As the last few guitar riffs rung out, it was a natural closing to the exclusive set, one that Styles did not seem to recognize, as he gave one of his half smirks and mumbled into the mic, “I dunno, I kind of want to do a stage dive.” Gaining yet another deafening roar from the audience, myself included, we proceeded to raise our hands out, ready to levitate the messiah himself. As Styles dove into the audience, he quickly came out of sight, plunging into a sea of fans, which incidentally didn’t have the upper body strength to keep the singer afloat. Yet, as he climbed back onto the stage, hair tousled and cream ruffles off-center, we were met with yet another one of his sheepish grins, along with a chorus of suits yelling into the ear piece Harry had pulled out before his leap. The lights came back on, while Ed Sheeran’s recorded voice continued playing. Styles walked off the stage, gold bees on the back of his loafers clicking.