It was a rainy night as Niall Horan's 2017 tour, dubbed the "Flicker Sessions," after his chart-topping solo album, arrived in the D.C. suburbs at the Fillmore Silver Spring and, to no one's surprise, the crowd was overwhelmingly female. (Finding the few boys in the audience was like playing a game of Where’s Waldo?) But it was interesting to note that, along with the expected throngs of twenty-something young women who grew up with Horan's previous band, there were plenty of sweet younger things who were probably still in kindergarten back In 2010, when he auditioned for "The X Factor," the British TV competition that launched the musical juggernaut known as One Direction,
Horan was the 1D guy most often photographed holding a guitar, and he strummed one onstage during the group’s tours as if to signal to fans that he wanted to be more than just a singer. Now that the band is on hiatus (optimistic hope) or broken up (say it ain't so!), One Direction's former members have revealed their personal musical leanings. Harry Styles’ self-titled LP is a surprisingly rich sampler of classic rock styles. Zayn Malik’s Mind of Mine is the groove diary of a bad boy unchained. And while Louis Tomlinson has dabbled in electronic music, and Liam Payne has gone a bit trashy, stripping it down on the bedroom floor, Horan has stayed closest to the One Direction model - pleasant, guitar-based mid-tempo pop that doesn’t go dark or dirty. (Even the sexy “Slow Hands” begins with the girl making the invitation, “We should take this back to my place.”)
With his blue-eyed good looks and charming Irish accent, Horan doesn’t have to reinvent the musical wheel to be a crowd-pleaser. His songs - and he does co-write them all - are melodic and sing-along-ready, and the Fillmore crowd was eager to offer their full-throated help. “Seeing Blind,” the duet Horan recorded with Maren Morris, didn’t need a second voice this night– the audience was delighted to be his singing partner. In the somewhat awkward encore (“On the Loose” didn’t build to the kind of climax that indicated it was the end of the set, so the audience took its time asking for more), the night’s only 1D throwback - “Fools Gold” - had the fans taking entire choruses onto themselves.
Running through all 13 tracks of Flicker (deluxe edition) with a sharp five-piece band that never gave in to flash or excess, Horan gave the ladies just what they came for – a talented, charismatic onstage boyfriend who repeatedly thanked them for their support, cared that they were all having a good time, even apologized to those watching from the side balconies because he didn't directly face them as he sang.
Only for “Slow Hands,” the penultimate song (“On My Own” ended the night), did Horan put down his guitar and grab a hand mic to prowl the stage and tease the crowd, working his way to all corners, eliciting screams from those who knew how lucky they were to be in the 2,000 capacity Fillmore. Horan’s current tour, similar to Styles’ recent sold-out American run, is taking place in relatively small spaces; both will tour next summer in much larger arenas. When Horan plays the D.C. area again, it will be at a venue that holds 25,000 fans.