Tonight music lovers will be in for a treat as superstar pop band One Direction is set perform at M&T Bank Stadium.
Just before 9 on Saturday night, the London-based pop group One Direction took a Baltimore stage for the first time in the group's five-year career. Judging by the decibels produced by the high-pitched screams instantly filling M&T Bank Stadium, the wait was tortured, but well worth it.
The pop quartet — which features Niall Horan, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson — began with "Clouds," a soaring, well-chosen opener with a full-throated hook written with arenas in mind. Fireworks punctuated the song — this was an arena tour with the ticket prices to prove it, after all — but explosives could not outshine this wholesome foursome in the eyes of the crowd.
Who needs pyrotechnics when the world's most popular boy band is singing live to the already converted and faithfully devoted? As is often the case with well-oiled boy bands like One Direction, the night was won before it began.
Still, a One Direction concert makes for a fascinating lesson in what pop stardom looks and sounds like today.
Here, natural likability and aw-shucks charm trumped the tricks previous standard-bearers like 'N Sync and the Backstreet Boys lived by. One Direction does not rely on props, elaborate stage designs or choreographed dance moves. They have no need for matching costumes, and instead wear outfits its members would likely wear normally, such as tight jeans and plain T-shirts and tanktops. The quartet looked as if they had rolled off the tour bus 10 minutes before taking the stage, and it was a safe bet no one in the crowd of mostly teenage girls would have preferred it another way.
The heavy lifting, then, was left to the music. The setlist smartly leaned on songs from the band's past two albums, 2013's "Midnight Memories" and last year's "Four." While the group started as a pure sugar rush (best exemplified in the 2012 single "What Makes You Beautiful," one of the night's few songs from their debut album), their newer songs reflect a group safely expanding its sonic parameters.
"Midnight Memories" had surfer-rock harmonies, and a healthy nod to Def Leppard's most pop sensibilities. New single "Drag Me Down" built tension like an electronic dance music song, and led to a payoff of a sleek, stomping chorus.
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As live musicians, the group does enough to not seem wholly manufactured. Horan occasionally alternated between an electric Gibson SG guitar and a Taylor acoustic. Despite the recent departure of talented singer Zayn Malik, the group sounded strong vocally, even if their singing never felt like a major focus.
Because, really, a One Direction concert is as much about fan reaffirmation as it is singers hitting notes. These are the crushes many in the crowd will remember long after the songs sound dated and another group inevitably picks up the boy-band torch. So it was imperative that the group maintained the concert status quo just enough to feel like a parent got her money's worth.
There was the quiet, more serious acoustic section. There was the generic on-stage banter of thank you's and shout-outs. ("I wanna kiss every single one of you!" Styles exclaimed.) And there was the charming portion when members read some of the many signs held up all night.
During the latter, a fan held a large Tupperware container of homemade cookies up for Styles. He graciously accepted the sweets, and proudly showed off the gift to the thousands in the audience. "Can we keep the box?" Styles asked with a grin. With that, her night was made, and the connection between idol and fan fortified — at least for a few more years.