Aidin Vaziri | Fire alarms started to blare inside the Masonic shortly before Harry Styles took the stage on Tuesday, Sept. 19, but the die-hard fans who had lined up outside the San Francisco venue as early as 8 a.m. to secure a spot close to the stage didn’t budge. The risk of a little smoke inhalation was no match for a chance to get intimate with a member of the British boy band One Direction.
Styles was in the city to kick off his first solo tour, which will lap the world before returning to the SAP Center in San Jose on July 11.
“Thank you for being here,” he said, greeting the sold-out crowd. “Thank you for popping my cherry.”
As it turns out, there was no fire, but the air was thick with expectation. Out of the square-jawed guys in the multiplatinum-selling One Direction (currently on hiatus), Styles was most likely to get tagged for solo stardom by Las Vegas oddsmakers. He has the voice, moves, tattoos, hair and goofy grin.
Yet Styles seems to have fallen behind his One Direction bandmates in the race for chart dominance.
His self-titled album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 when it was released in May, then quickly plummeted down the chart. Its two singles, “Sign of the Times” and “Sweet Creature,” peaked on the Hot 100 at No. 4 and No. 93, respectively, but were shadowed by big hits by Niall Horan (“Slow Hands”), Liam Payne (“Strip That Down”), Louis Tomlinson (“Back to You”) and Zayn Malik (“I Don’t Wanna Live Forever,” with Taylor Swift).
The tour, which marked seven years from Styles’ public debut at age 16 auditioning for the “The X Factor UK,” may turn his fortunes around. But he doesn’t seem particularly concerned.
Now 23, the singer and actor (he appeared in “Dunkirk” this year) is grasping at maturity. Forsaking dance beats and the trite pop formulas, his solo material veers from the sun-dappled ’70s soft-rock jams “Ever Since New York” and “Two Ghosts” (during the concert, he even threw in a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain”) to bombastic, Def Leppard-style rockers “Only Angel” and “Kiwi.”
Despite wearing a vintage pompadour and floral suit that looked liked it was made from the remnants of the couch in the old Avalon Ballroom, he threw himself into the louder numbers the most, bouncing on one leg, punching the air and dropping to his knees when the occasion arose.
The screams certainly haven’t subsided for Styles. Every raised eyebrow or wiggled hip earned a fresh round of wails from the audience. Picking up a rainbow flag tossed onto the stage by one of his fans, he twirled it around and draped it over his microphone stand.
“I only have 10 songs to my name, so I’m going to play a couple extras,” he said, rewarding his now-college-age fans with covers of One Direction live staples “Stockholm Syndrome” and “What Makes You Beautiful,” along with his take on Ariana Grande’s “Just a Little Bit of Your Heart” (which he co-wrote for her 2014 album “My Everything”).
Styles closed the hour-long set with “Sign of the Times,” the slow-burning ballad that has become his calling card. Channeling David Bowie, it casts the singer as a self-assured, reflective artist who can still set hearts ablaze.
“I was so excited for tonight, and now I know why,” Styles said. “I would like to put it down as the perfect first night of the tour.”