One Direction Live: A Review From a Longtime, Grown-Up Fan
There are few things in this life worth truly committing to: Kids, pets you bought or rescued and the things that bring you pure, unbridled joy. One Direction is my child, my pet, my One Thing Good, and so I commit. I should be committed. They have rendered me a mess. Bellevue, I am coming.
After pouring a vat of gasoline all over my September student loan payments, I struck a match and set fire to my own adulthood with the purchase of one front row One Direction ticket for the Philly stop on their current On The Road Again Tour. Responsibilities don't exist when you're in your mid-20s, and are also me, at least for one night per year. My inexplicable love of One Direction is unsurpassed by anything to come before it, except for maybe how intensely I love Dave Grohl.
So, after YOLO-ing away my finances and further infusing Niall Horan's tissues with Swarovski crystals, I found myself front row and buzzing.
But before I go into detail about the show, here is the truth: I have seen One Direction more times than I am willing to disclose at this point in my adult life. I have seen them in tiny venues (Beacon Theater, what's good?). I have met them. Traitor Zayn Malik told me he loved my hair -- he used the word love, which is deeper than "like," you know? That conversation took place over three years ago, yet here I am, still in it deep. But my years of One Direction stan-dom culminated in this one evening, in the 90 minutes of unfettered, emotional exodus that took place on September 1, 2015.
On a scale of Kirk Douglas to the Triassic Period, try to guess how old I feel at most One Direction concerts. The correct answer is "The Sun." But in that moment, on that blessed night, I was unbothered. Everything felt good and right and real.
I turned to the mom next to me and asked how old her daughter was. "15," she said, an appropriate age to watch One Direction from the front row. "How old are you?" she asked me, not unkindly. "I'm about to turn 27 in a few days," I said, to which she responded, "You don't look it at all!" As though 26 warrants me ancient relic status. Though I guess in a sea of spry, squirrelly 16-year-olds, I was a fossil wedged inside the darkest, dankest cave.
How do you break down One Direction, when it's the sum of their parts that renders them the inexplicable force that they are? I once described the group as a clowder of feral cats whose legs have been untethered for the first time. Not much has changed — though they're a bit more savvy now, and they cling to each other less. They're weary, they've been worked too hard, and, admittedly, it shows.
But anyway: Eventually, the lights dimmed, the screens buzzed and One Direction's terrible, tinny intro music shot me out of my tequila-infused stupor, saving me from being forced into any further idle chitchat, even though I'd initiated it. Everything awful in my life is my fault, and I know this now.
The band opened with "Clouds," which is the perfect introduction to One Direction for people who hate One Direction. It is #RealMusic unless you are Zayn, with the heaviest guitar riff on their album Four, pounding, insistent drums and a desperation in its lyrics that's equal parts frantic and honest. Delivered with a frenzied vocal intensity, Harry Styles starts off the song roaring, a mess of limbs and wild eyes: "I know you said that you don't like it complicated / That we should try to keep it simple / But love is never, ever simple." Watching Harry is like staring at not only God, but also Jesus. He is a heavenly disaster, possessing the jolting physical movements of a corpse that fell onto some misplaced electrical wires. More on this later.
After rushing through the more '80s-leaning tracks in their discography (the Journey-inspired "Steal My Girl," the hair metal-lite "Little Black Dress," the dad-rock-esque "Where Do Broken Hearts Go," pop-punk reject "Midnight Memories") they start in on the forgettable "Ready to Run," a song that would've fit more appropriately on the soundtrack for the animated horse movie Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron, which few people have seen.
The track falls kind of flat on its own, but "100% not gay" member Liam Payne really enjoys it. It's one of his favorite songs, he says. I believe him, though I suspect One Direction is lying about many things, their "hiatus" included. But Liam tries so hard. He's a never-ending sugar cube, he's so sweet, and I was so close to him that I feel I have diabetes now. Some of One Direction's more world-weary, jaded fans can practically taste his desperate, palpable need to please -- but Liam's the most competent vocalist in the group by far, serving Mariah-style vocal runs with an ease unmatched by the other three.
It was humid that night, so Liam changed his shirt four times. Louis changed clothes once. Harry and Niall chose to marinate in their own sweat. All of these wardrobe changes took place offstage, of course, because as overtly sexual as Harry tends to be onstage, the majority of the group's shtick remains mostly chaste. I appreciated this, because if any of them had exposed naked flesh to the hoards of hormone-fueled fans around me, I'm certain I would have been mauled to death in the ensuing stampede. There's a certain electricity in the air at a One Direction concert, like every moment may be met with a fiery end.
Louis Tomlinson sang wildly off-key half the time, but he shined on "No Control," a misguided fan favorite whose worth can be found solely in the following Vine.
Louis' high-pitched voice can be a tad harsh for One Direction's bubblegum pop music and their more folky tracks and also their ballads. Maybe he'd find his niche in a brash pop-punk band. He looked sleepy and bored throughout the night, as though he were training for his impending fatherhood a full six months early, but his hair looked freshly washed.
Niall, meanwhile, "played guitar" throughout the evening, but he looked down at the fretboard quite often. He also butchered the opening verse to "Night Changes," though perhaps it sounded worse than it actually was because those lines once belonged to fallen member Zayn and, as Blair Waldorf once said: You cannot compare catfish to caviar. No matter: Niall's eyes were so blue that fans would have been content to drown themselves inside them, if only he'd make eye-contact with anyone, just once. I am not sure he realized people were watching him at all.
Niall did mollify the crowd eventually, with one of far too many speeches about gratitude peppered throughout the evening's set.
It became a sort of theme for the evening, this overbearing thankfulness. True, One Direction don't dance, their stage setup isn't particularly elaborate, pyro and fireworks are minimal and only two out of the four are more-than-competent vocalists (#BlameZayn). But one of the great things about One Direction is that they never pretend to be anything they're not. They play to their strengths: Heavy on the fan interaction, heavy on interacting with each other (unless you are the Harry and Louis combination), way too much gratitude.
It only makes sense that "Girl Almighty" is One Direction's true unspoken anthem, this triumph of young girls. Where so many boy bands before them were about acquisition, about desire, One Direction comes through and worships the biggest demographic of people who put them on the map. It's a largely-nonsense song with garbage lyrics (Her light is as loud as as many ambulances as it takes to save a savior, oh) but the Beatles wrote "I Am The Walrus," right?
"Girl Almighty" is a rollicking, innocent celebration of girls, a group subliminally taught by our patriarchal society to value men above all else, and it's fire live. There is nothing sexual here, just youthful exuberance, genuine and fun. When Liam sings, "I get down on my knees for you," Harry does exactly that, he drops down and he bows. Because going to a One Direction concert is like attending a mass, except the fans are all God and One Direction are the Evangelical Christians from Jesus Camp.
You get the feeling that the group knows they're an anomaly, and that their specific sort of fame and fortune doesn't make all that much sense. It's like they finally watched their own X Factor performances and asked, "How?" and "Why?" It is only appropriate to pay tribute to the people who put them on an impossibly-high pedestal.
But sometimes the Worship of One Direction is warranted. Remember when the group performed "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" with Ronnie Wood on X Factor? I bet Ronnie does. Fondly, even. How could you forget performing next to a burgeoning rock star? Because that's exactly what Harry Styles is.
Mr. Molasses himself, Harry is the languid lothario of 1D, appealing to teens and tweens and the elderly alike. He speaks with the seeming ineptitude of a snail crawling through a vat of melted tar, but he's a fireball on stage, interacting with fans, belting out those notes with alarming fierceness, roaring and running with ten times the energy and enthusiasm of his bandmates. (Save, Liam. Good, genuine Liam.)
He is a whip, a veritable force of gracelessness. Harry is not smooth or suave in the same way Zayn was. He can't rest on his perfectly symmetrical looks or effortless, flawless vocals.
But he has personality, leaps and bounds of it, a serious grit to his voice and an undeniable sex appeal that provides something of an edge for a group that caters largely to the tween subset. And while he has been hyped up by non-fans for years now (often enraging hardcore stans -- there's a whole band here, you know?) there's a reason he's the only member my father can name. If anyone is the JT of the group, it's Harry. You know it, I know it, Louis knows it.
But Harry is also the gentlest giant, a lumbering loaf of a man who throws bananas to fans claiming low blood sugar. He dumps bottles of water on others, sometimes he blows kisses, he smirks. These are all basic things, but find yourself on the receiving end of a piercing stare from Harry Styles and you will lose your dignity, and certainly your words -- I know I did.
Tracks from One Direction's magnum opus, the pop masterpiece that is Take Me Home, are largely absent from their current setlist, and that's a shame. From it, they kept only "Kiss You" and the Ed Sheeran reject "Little Things," opting instead to fill their 90-minute set with the songs they have to play ("What Makes You Beautiful," "You & I"), songs they want to play ("Through The Dark," "Story of My Life," "Little White Lies") and weird songs -- like the Irish-inflected jaunt, "Act My Age." You can practically hear Zayn choosing to quit the band on the studio version of this track.
Still, "Act My Age" is a fun song, and it works even though it shouldn't. They all really come to life at this point in the set, like they're so many Michael Flatleys: Lord of the Dance. But it's here when you're reminded that One Direction may break up, and that they somehow became famous enough for it to affect you in the first place. This goofy throwaway drinking song, tossed haphazardly into their encore, proved to be a sobering, bittersweet moment of realization. The past three-and-a-half years I've spent living my One Direction truth -- forging tight bonds with other fans, landing myself this very editorial job through a fan I met along the way -- could soon be over. I might finally regain some autonomy over my life, but at what cost?
One Direction is set to play their final show on U.S. soil tomorrow night (September 12), and there's no telling how long it'll be until they return, if they do at all. This is all going to end soon, this glorious mess of a machine that fans have spent so much time, energy and money on loving. One Direction could never truly be the best at what they do, not after being pounded tirelessly into the Earth by their label and coming out the other side barely alive.
But "Best Song Ever" provides a fitting soundtrack for the way it all should end (their set and otherwise): "And we danced all night to the best song ever / We knew every line / Now I can't remember how it goes / But I know that I won't forget her / "Cause we danced all night to the best song ever." Juvenile lyrics, sure. But One Direction have always been about feeling first; specifics don't matter as much.
Most of the general public wishes One Direction would launch themselves somewhere well beyond Pluto’s icy atmosphere, and they did, sort of. But the group revels in exactly what it is: some silly little Something Great to so many, and for the fans -- for me, at least -- it’s enough.
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