Concert review: With an in-the-round stage, Harry Styles packs Xcel Energy Center to the rafters for spectacular show

When we last saw Harry Styles, back in July 2018 on his debut solo tour, the former boy bander proved he had nearly everything it takes to be a real Rock Star, with the swagger, charisma, androgyny and sense of mystery of a David Bowie, a Mick Jagger or a Lady Gaga.

The problem? The songs. His self-titled first album was just OK, with a few keepers (“Sign of the Times,” “Only Angel,” “Woman”) and a whole lot of lesser material. To make up for it, he played three One Direction hits (that’s two too many) and covered Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” (a clear highlight of the show).

On Wednesday night, the 27-year-old Styles returned to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center for a wildly entertaining concert in front of a packed-to-the-rafters crowd of about 18,000. He lived up to all the promise of his first tour and then some.

It helps that his sophomore record, “Fine Line,” is much, much stronger. It even landed at No. 491 on Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list last year, which is a bit of a stretch, but it speaks to a certain ambition and hunger missing from Styles’ early work.

Indeed, “Fine Line” songs provided some of the brightest moments of the evening. Styles opened with the stoned ’70s California pop of “Golden” and later found time for the funky “Adore You,” the John Lennon-esque “She” and the rollicking “Canyon Moon.” Somewhat remarkably, Styles transformed “Lights Up” from an intimate, meditative piece of bedroom pop into a monstrous arena-rock singalong.

Styles performed on a massive in-the-round stage in the center of the arena’s floor, with folks seated in every corner of the place. Fans flooded the general-admission floor on every side of the stage, dancing, screaming and jumping up and down. Four massive screens above the stage gave even the nosebleed seats an intimate view of Styles.

A terrific six-piece band — three men, three women — brought the appropriate heft to Styles’ songs and their extended instrumental breaks gave Styles the opportunity to dance his way down the two catwalks that stretched out into the crowd.

Fans attempted to throw things on stage, which he mostly ignored. He did, however, grab a feather boa and, later, a rainbow flag that he proudly waved. (Styles is big on LGBT acceptance to the point his crowds could be mistaken for a Pride festival.)

With all the new stuff, Styles thankfully only played a single 1D song, “What Makes You Beautiful.” And instead of trying to make it fit in with the sound and vibe of his solo work, he fully leaned into its inherent cheesiness. After that, he wrapped his main set with a slow-burning “Fine Line.” His three-song encore included his first solo hit, “Sign of the Times,” the Grammy-winning “Watermelon Sugar” and his now-traditional show-closer, “Kiwi.”

Wednesday’s concert featured the strictest COVID-19 protocols yet for a major Twin Cities concert, with proof of vaccination (or a negative test) required along with masks. Ticketholders were able to upload photos of vaccination cards in advance and show a screen on their phone at the gate, a process that made entry easier than expected.

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