After a five year absence, Niall Horan returned to Utah on Monday night. He played at USANA Amphitheatre in West Valley City to a crowd that was absolutely enamored with him. Horan’s last visit to Utah was in 2013 with the esteemed One Direction. The time gap was apparent in the packed-to-the-brim venue, which was filled in both seats and lawn. The sunset on Monday night painted the skies in hues of pink and orange and set the perfect stage for a concert that can only be described in one word: captivating.
Horan’s opening act was country artist Maren Morris, who is also featured on one of the tracks from “Flicker,” “Seeing Blind.” She played a set that kept the crowd entertained and interested, which is always a difficult task as an opening act. Horan was on the stage in no time, welcomed by deafening screams from fans who had traveled from far and wide — buying their tickets months in advance and counting down the days to see him perform. For those who think the seats in USANA were packed with teenage girls, I’ll say that was only partly true. Just in front of me, there was one father and a young girl dancing to every song. But there were people of all ages attending to see Horan, and to say that he (or any member of One Direction) can only appeal to teenage girls is a great injustice to his craft.
And the wait was worth it.
Horan performed all 13 songs from his debut solo album as well as covering a few songs like Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” and One Direction’s famous hits “Fool’s Gold” and “Drag Me Down.” One of the biggest concerns with seeing any artist live is the sound — will it be as good as in a studio with unlimited takes? For Horan, it sounds even better live. Perhaps this can be attributed to the “vibe” of the songs he plays, which are vulnerable and real, allowing every single fan to connect on a personal level. That’s the thing about Horan and this album. It was raw and real, and it’s obvious he put his heart into each and every chord of it. His personality clearly radiated through every song he performed. To be able to share your art with someone who appreciates it enough to memorize it is indescribable.
Despite the screaming and dancing fans, the show was very relaxed. The stage setting was carpet, and it felt as if Horan had invited 20,000 people into his living room to play some songs for them. The crowd was the best I’ve ever been a part of. They were respectful, understanding and they let Horan speak and sing without interrupting him with high pitched yells. But more than that — they were there to enjoy the music. In several songs Horan encouraged the crowd to finish off, smiling boldly as he listened to them sing back the lyrics to him. I wasn’t the only one who thought the crowd was exceptional — it was apparent Horan was quite pleased with the experience. Halfway through the concert, he paused to say, “This is exactly what I envisioned playing my lyrics to people would look like. . . . [When] I’m sitting at home, I’m in studios, I’m spending hours and hours on recording and writing an album, then I have it in my head that I would be standing here, in amphitheaters full of people, with mountains in the background, and the sun setting. So thank you for making that one come true.”
There’s not a single moment I can recall where he didn’t have a beaming smile on his face. He seemed genuinely happy to be there, which is notable, as many artists have a notion in their head that performing in “Mormon land” is different and unenjoyable.
As much as everyone screamed for Niall, the members of his solo band are just as notable. Jake Curran shredded the guitar. John Bird Jr., the bass guitarist, was smooth. Alex Torjussen, the drummer, was not overpowering like most drummers tend to be. Louis Querelle, on the keys, was out of this world. Finally, Conor Masterson, on the violin, was simply dreamy. A big part of Horan’s songs are based in deep instrumental sections and the members of his band do an absolutely phenomenal job.
Overall, I feel quite sad for people who missed the opportunity to see Horan perform his album because it was an honor to be able to hear and see it live. Although he promised to come back as soon as he’s written his next one, there was something undeniably special about “Flicker” and how it was performed. There’s a certain delicacy to each song, even the faster ones like “Slow Hands” and “On the Loose.” But if Horan continues to be the kind man with a guitar in his arms and heart on his sleeve, then it’s safe to say Utah will gladly await his next return.