Thursday the 15th of March, O2 Apollo
It would be easy to arrive at the gig of an ex-One Direction member with expectations of pop and cheese. However, with Niall being one of the two members who have seemingly found their own style and sound within the group — Louis being the other — and having heard several of his solo songs and enjoyed them, it was clear he could deliver a night that was his alone.
He did. From the sweet ingénu of the band, Niall has blossomed into a confident presence whose rawness, honesty, and sense of humour are very encouraging.
Far from huddling in his old mould to please the many screaming girls in the audience, Niall chatted and joked between songs and could be quite blunt, having the guts to ask before an emotional song to “take your phone and put it in your pocket, and let’s make some memories. Real ones”. Not everybody obeyed, but the number of annoying white screens did reduce for a few lovely minutes.
Gone are the days of standing and smiling demurely behind a mic with his bandmates. Niall danced and rocked out with his guitar, embracing the music and exuding pure energy and joy. His guitar skills were promising, and the overall folksy image suited him down to the ground.
He also sat briefly at the piano – he admitted he isn’t hugely proficient at it but believes it is the best way to share a certain song with us. Not many could have minded how patchy some of the early notes are: Niall was accepting his vulnerability and turned it into a display of strength, and he owned the moment. His band was talented and cohesive, especially the fiddle player, who really added something special.
The stage design generally really worked. There were a few instances of unnecessary strobing, and towards the end, the background lights spelt out Niall’s initials in a way that was slightly tacky. However, mostly he was bathed in a warm, reddish glow and there was a sense of intimacy — as if the crowd were sitting around a fire listening to him play. With his album entitled Flicker, this seemed very appropriate.
On the downside, a lot of the songs were samey. However, through his performance, Niall did make each number that little bit different and memorable, and through his introductions, there was a sense of what each means to him, which helped us to connect to them, too.
Overall, he gave off a vibe of cosiness and hope. He is able to embrace who he is, what he wants to play, and how he wants to make people feel. Great things are ahead for Niall Horan.