Well, where else was he going to do it?
With his new self-titled solo album, Harry Styles of the British boy band One Direction is reintroducing himself as the world’s youngest classic-rock star: a 23-year-old singer and songwriter with a pretty head full of memories of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac.
So of course he chose the Troubadour as the setting for his first full American concert on Friday night. Known for launching the careers of the Eagles and Elton John, the vaunted West Hollywood venue still serves as a beacon for artists looking to align themselves with a tradition rooted in the 1960s and ’70s. For an extra boost of credibility, he even got one of the club’s famous veterans, Stevie Nicks, to join him for a few songs, including the deathless “Landslide.”
“Tonight may be the best night of my life,” Styles said not long into the show, and you sensed that he wasn’t exaggerating by much.
Facilitated by a team of producers led by Jeff Bhasker, the singer’s make-under on “Harry Styles” is convincing. He knows how to bend his voice to match the dreamy acoustic textures of a song like “Meet Me in the Hallway.” He also understands when to add grit, as in “Only Angel,” which rocks as hard as anything from, I don’t know, “Steel Wheels”?
As a live performer, he’s getting there. Dressed in a black shirt and sparkly gold bell-bottoms, Styles shimmied expertly during the funky “Carolina” and beamed sincerity as he crooned “From the Dining Table,” a stripped-down ballad about gloomily masturbating in a hotel room.
“Kiwi,” which had Styles gripping the Troubadour’s lighting rig as he leaned out over the audience, sounded better onstage than on the album: an actual glam-rock outburst instead of a too-tidy approximation of one. And any record nerd in the house had to appreciate his revamping One Direction’s “Stockholm Syndrome” as a chugging, Thin Lizzy-style guitar jam.
“It’s an oldie but a goodie,” he said following that one.
Speaking of which! Clearly, just having Nicks show up Friday made the point Styles was looking to make. (It helped that the singer’s manager, Jeffrey Azoff, is the son of Irving Azoff, who helps oversee Fleetwood Mac.) But the real coup may have been persuading her to sing one of his songs, the strummy “Two Ghosts,” before they performed “Landslide.”
“Wanna do one more?” Styles then asked Nicks, and that was the lead-in to an impressive version of “Leather and Lace,” with Styles filling in for Don Henley.
Or maybe he wasn’t filling in for the Eagles member so much as pointing toward him. For all the precision of Styles’ new act, he hasn’t quite figured out the rock star’s essential trick, which is an expression of self that feels specific while somehow allowing for infinite interpretation.
There’s a blankness to Styles that worked in One Direction, where he and his mates were pushing against the ready-made expectations of a boy band. On his own, though, he’ll need to give us more — to communicate ideas deeper or weirder or messier than how psyched he is to have completed his very appealing album.
Then again, what Styles was putting across at the Troubadour seemed to connect fine with the adoring fans crowding the front of the stage. And not just them: After “Leather and Lace,” Nicks retreated to the club’s upstairs dressing room and could be seen taking a seat behind a glass partition, peering down at her new friend with what looked like respect.