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Harry Styles knows how to create mayhem—and he’ll do it with a cheeky grin. He showed off this mastery of the crowd at the sold-out Chicago Theatre on Sept. 26 and while it was only the fourth stop on his first tour as a solo artist, he proved everything he touches (or does) turns to screams.

Of course by now, he’s used to it. After a few years of world tours with pop powerhouse One Direction, Styles has perfected his on-stage persona: a cocktail of charm, silliness, humor and sex appeal. It’s why I (and the hundreds of others who saw him that Tuesday night in Chicago) were totally charmed.

Girls shared memories about meeting their mutuals at 1D concerts but it quickly turned to rabid screams as a pink floral curtain unfurled on stage. Styles’ silhouette leaked through and we waited for the drop. With Harry, we’re always waiting: for the big reveal, for the moment to read into a smirk that’s gone a little too high, for a peek underneath his carefully arranged persona. 

Styles opened with “Ever Since New York” with guitar in hand. For the first few songs he opted to stay behind the microphone, introducing himself as part of the band rather than a solo artist with backup instrumentalists. He ditched the subtlety with “Only Angel,” where he turned on his rock ‘n’ roll face and strutted around the stage like a young Mick Jagger in a sparkly pink and green bellbottom (and probably custom-made) Gucci suit.

The intimacy of a 13-date North American theater tour brings fans closer to Styles than ever before and to be honest, it made for an out-of-body experience. This was unimaginable during the 1D days. Such realness is unattainable at large arena tours where the experience is more comparable to watching a YouTube video on a noisy train.

“I’m Harry. I’m from England and you’re amazing,” he said in the biggest understatement ever.

Styles put the crowd into a frenzy with a twist of his dimples or walk around onstage. Since his self-titled album only has ten songs, fans are familiar with every note. Any added inflection or elongated note earned screams. It wasn’t rare to catch him holding back a grin—he knew what he was doing.

That’s not to say he manipulates the crowd. Rather, he embraces it. He’s so in tune with his audience that he lends them moments to grab onto, gives them the time and voice to scream until they’re satisfied. A Harry Styles show is a place of love, a place to be unabashedly yourself. Singing along with Styles is elation in its purest form. Around me, a young woman cried all night, singing and dancing with her friend. A young girl hugged her mom, who sang along with Styles’ cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain.” 

Because of Ticketmaster’s Verified Fan Program and the small amount of available tickets, fans were among the most passionate Directioners on the planet. Harry doesn’t ignore that and he won’t shed his boyband skin, either. He’s a champion of the fangirl and brings his past forward with him, rocking up versions of One Direction hits “Stockholm Syndrome” and “What Makes You Beautiful.”

Styles literally markets himself on being the nicest in the biz: tour shirts read “Treat People With Kindness.” He waved a pride flag. He called his fans his best friends and it wasn’t just Rockstar Harry talking. He’s a playful performer who makes a crowd feel individually loved, the nice rockstar your parents always wanted for you.

Yet while the world of Harry Styles is always open (he once captioned an Instagram post with: “I am available always”) he might not be there all the time. He’s mastered the myth of accessibility: Styles blanketed the crowd with “I love you’s” but closed his eyes when he sang his personal numbers like “From The Dining Table.” He bantered about deep dish pizza—which a lot of musicians hurl whenever they’re in Chicago—and started a Lou Malnati’s vs. Giordano’s debate (without saying which he preferred). He shares his charm and personality but leaves fans enough room to fill in the rest for themselves.

The short 75-minute set peaked with “Kiwi,” another killer, rockier tune. “Lose your minds, please and thank you,” Harry shouted before parading down the stage, hands on hips, tongue out, raucous dad dance moves out to play. Styles closed out with power ballad “Sign of the Times” singing, “Just stop your crying, have the time of your life.”

As the show’s opener, Muna (an electro-pop band), reminded us earlier, the world is a scary place right now. But being in the same, small room with Styles, the common denominator for a few thousand of us, brought transcendent relief. It’s clear Harry’s making a transition from boy bander to lasting musician, and he’s bringing the fans with him.

Top photo via Twitter/@ChicagoTheatre