The last time I went to the iHeartRadio Theater in Burbank, California, it was for the release party of One Direction’s third album, Midnight Memories. On that night in 2013, all five original members of the group rocked the stage with “Best Song Ever” and “Story of My Life,” pausing intermittently to crack jokes with Ryan Seacrest. The band played loud, the crowd screamed louder, and the future of 1D had never seemed more exciting.
On Friday night (October 20), in the same theater, Niall Horan celebrated the release of his debut solo album, Flicker. In the moments before he strolled onstage, it felt strange being in the room where I had seen him — and Harry, Liam, Louis, and Zayn — four years earlier. I looked around the intimate venue and wondered if there were other Directioners who had been at the same show in 2013. If there were, it would only prove what I’d long known to be true: 1D fans are bummed about the group’s hiatus, sure, but they’re also stoked about the guys’ solo careers, and damn it if they won’t continue to be fervent supporters.
And why shouldn’t they? In the case of Horan and Flicker, they now have 10 charming new songs (13, if you’re counting the deluxe version) that practically envelop you in easy-listening warmth. Horan has found his musical footing, his time has come, and on Friday night, he was in the mood to celebrate.
After unceremoniously taking the carpet-covered stage at 6:58 p.m., two minutes ahead of schedule, he launched right into his debut single, “This Town.” I had seen him perform the tender ballad once before, at last year’s Jingle Ball concert in Los Angeles, where he stood alone, centerstage, with an acoustic guitar at his grip. This time around, he had a full band behind him, with a bass player, a guitarist, a drummer, a keyboardist, and a violinist. The fuller arrangement gave “This Town” a livelier, much-welcomed kick, and Horan tackled it with the ease of an artist who's finally confident in the solo spotlight.
In between songs, Horan chatted with KIIS FM radio host JoJo Wright, who inquired about his mood now that Flicker is out in the world (“I feel good!”), his go-to person for unfiltered musical feedback (his cousin, who’s also his roommate), and the huge commercial success of “Slow Hands” (“it’s grown into a monster”).
Horan ended up playing 12 of the 13 songs on the deluxe edition of Flicker. “The Tide” was left out, but everything else was accounted for, including the upbeat album opener “On the Loose,” during which he gleefully jammed on electric guitar, and a Maren Morris-less version of “Seeing Blind.” He called “Flicker” a career-defining song for him, and introduced “Mirrors” by telling the crowd, “I know that a lot of young ladies struggle within themselves sometimes, and I wanted to put a little bit of light on that and let everyone know that they’re not on their own.” Cue all the adoring “awws” — this is, rest assured, the same Horan who doesn’t want you to forget where you belong.
Horan’s set is road-tested; thus far, he’s played eight of the 21 dates on his global Flicker Sessions tour. But this was his first gig since the album’s actual release, meaning, as he put it, “This is the first show that I’ve done where you actually might know the words.” Impressively (but not all that surprisingly), the crowd sang along to a decent chunk of the set, prompting Horan to gush, “You’re one of my favorite crowds I’ve ever played to. I appreciate you respecting the music, I really do.”
It was a couple minutes after 8 p.m. when Horan announced his final song of the evening. It had only been about an hour, but as he pointed out, “I only have one album!” He saved the liveliest for last: the raucous “On My Own,” which is like the older, tipsier cousin of One Direction’s Irish-inspired rocker “Act My Age.”
“If this song doesn’t make you want to go drinking afterwards, I don’t know,” Horan said. His smile was huge, his chemistry with his bandmates was playful, and he sent us into the night with an extended, rowdy outro and more than a few heartfelt “thank yous.” It was an epic finale to a show that proved Horan’s forging a promising solo path that’ll earn him plenty of newly converted fans. In fact, as I stood up to leave, I overheard two parents of a young daughter call him “a talented guy” who reminded them of Fleetwood Mac. They were clearly impressed, but their smirking daughter spoke for longtime Horan/1D fans everywhere when she put them in their place: “I told you!”