“Are you ready to dance in the rain with us?” Harry Styles asked, three songs into One Direction’s set at Nationals Ballpark stadium. The 40,000+ crowd responded with an affirmative roar, their enthusiasm strong despite a persistent drizzle that began during the opening set from 5 Seconds of Summer (review and photos here), teased a brief break during the intermission, and then came back to stay for 1D’s long-awaited D.C. stop on the Where We Are world tour.
Rain, of course, is a staple of romantic music videos and movie love scenes, and so many of the girls in the crowd seemed to relish being caught in the mist with their musical soul-mates. As one girl was overheard gushing to a friend, “In the rain, they look like gods!” (Laugh if you want, but the showers made for some neat effects.)
And so, both band and fans re-committed to the ongoing love affair that is One Direction and its audience, stadium strong after four years of chart-topping hits like "What Makes You Beautiful," "Best Song Ever," "Live While We’re Young" and "One Thing." The power of those songs, composed with maximum melodic pop power and performed by five natural charmers whose videos are a cross between Monkees-style romps and teen fashion photo shoots, brought out a crowd that, while full of the expected teenage girls, also included a healthy number of twenty-somethings who didn’t need their parents to bring them to the show. And even the many mom-led packs, and smaller but endearing dad-and-daughter combos who made the trip appeared to be having a great time.
In a nearly two-hour long, 23-song show (see the full set list), the majority of songs came from the most recent album, Midnight Memories. One lesser-known track was Moments," written by Ed Sheeran and only available on the "Up All Night" deluxe version. Oddly missing in action was that title song from that 1D debut album and tour.
The fresh-faced boys who adorned that CD cover are now strapping young men with more distinct personalities. The aforementioned Harry Styles is a natural showman, constantly engaging with the crowd, dressed like a young Jagger in black jeans but smiling with little sexual menace. Niall Horan, the blond Irishman, more often than not has a guitar strung around his neck and, while he never gets a lead solo, appears determined to establish some musical credibility as he introduces "Don’t Forget Where You Belong," a song he co-wrote.
Liam Payne, in simple white T-shirt and shorts, exerts a casual athleticism and gently jokes about his “wet booty” after the five sit down for the ballad "Little Things." Louis Tomlinson has traded his suspenders and stripes for a rougher look and his clownish persona for a sly, naughty smile. And what of Zayn Mailk? Perhaps he wasn’t feeling well but he was the least engaged of the group, moving with quieter, more deliberate motion and flashing the least, shortest smiles.
This is a boy band that doesn’t dance in any synchronized manner but there’s plenty of choreographed running as the individual members work the crowd, heading out in solo breaks to the ramps on either side of the stage and meeting as a group to prowl the wider, longer stage that extends out into the center of the ballpark field. And while it all looks somewhat random, damn if they don’t always seem to stop in a tableau that looks great on the massive video screens.
The screens kept up a steady stream of activity, including scream-inducing close-ups for the sake of those in the upper tiers, and song-specific videos. A brief blast of fireworks followed the fifth song ("Rock Me") and 20-foot streamers cascaded over the field crowd during the 11th ("Happily"). The main set’s closer, performed on a rising stage at the far end of the audience ramp, was "What Makes You Beautiful," followed by a four-song encore packed with favorites - the new single, "You & I," "Story of My Life," "Little White Lies," and the fireworks-filled finale, "Best Song Ever."
Purists can argue about the difference between a stadium concert, in which an artist like Bruce Springsteen carries the night with a minimum of pyrotechnics, and a stadium show, such as this, where music is one element in a multi-media extravaganza of sound, light, motion and, ultimately, hormones. But if the end result is a whole lotta people having a grand time, viva la difference and let everyone have their fun in their own way.