I’ve always been a ‘Team Niall’ type of guy.

Mind you, I wasn’t necessarily the biggest Directioner out there, but there was always something about Niall Horan that spoke to me. It’s easy to credit his voice as a mesmerizing blend of warmth and power, with his distinctive timbre that carries a hint of vulnerability, wherein you could easily note how his vocals effortlessly glide through melodies to evoke a sense of intimacy and authenticity. But still, it was also more than just his talent.

Through his time with One Direction, Horan was evidently one of the most distant and private members of the group, yet there was an undeniable transformation about seeing him come out of his shell when performing live. You could see it clearly from the low-resolution performance videos on YouTube, while some of us were lucky enough to see it nine years ago during One Direction’s 2015 show here. Others were even able to witness it further during his Manila stop for the ‘Flicker’ World Tour six years ago.

But over the past six years since we last saw him, the Irish heartthrob has continued to evolve at his craft as exemplified by his third and latest full-length album, The Show. And from what we’ve seen of the record, adapted live for “The Show” Live In Manila stop at the Mall of Asia Arena, this may very well be the most open and vulnerable we have seen Horan ever –– and perhaps the best that we’ve seen of him as of yet.

niall horan the show live on tour

Photographed by Christian Tierney

As I approached the steps of the Mall of Asia Arena last May 13, you could easily note the years-long build-up of fans waiting to see that side of Horan once more. Whether it was the long line of fans praying to buy any last-minute tickets made available from the booth, or the hundreds (if not thousands) of fans already queuing in line to be the first to enter the venue that caught you attention, the energy outside was close enough to pop off the roof of the 170,000 sq ft arena.

By the time the lights of the arena began to dim, the words “Oh my god, Niall! I love you Niall!” became a uniform chant that was heard all across every corner of the venue, which was only drowned out by the gradual rise of instrumentals that built up the ‘Showverture’ of Horan and his band’s entrance onto the stage. Every shriek you heard was filled with such conviction –– you could really feel the drought that several of his fans felt from his absence.

Kicking off the night with hit track “Nice To Meet Ya,” Horan had everyone hooked from the moment he said the lines “I like the way you talk.” Building upon the energy of the audience, he followed it up with a rocking (and quite impressive) medley of Stevie Nicks’ “Edge of Seventeen” (showcasing his love for classic rock tracks) that seamlessly blended in his performance of “Small Talk”. Hearing him fully embrace that sort of sound with an unabashed confidence was jaw-dropping to say the least, and surely an indicator that Horan has the chops to become a full-blown rock star from the ’70s.

“On a Night Like Tonight” and “On The Loose” were up next on the setlist, perfectly setting the tone for the high-octane energetic evening that was set to take place as the hours passed by further. Addressing those in attendance with palpable excitement, Horan cheerfully greeted them by asking; “Silly question, how are you all feelin’ tonight?” –– which was responded to with an uproar of high-pitched cheers and screams. As he expressed his gratitude to the audience, the One Direction alumnus reminisced about his last visit to the country and marveled at the sheer amount of people in the packed venue. “Thank you so much for filling up this place for me,” he exclaimed in his adorably Irish accent. 

“It’s been six years, but I’ve missed you guys. Are you ready to sing as loud as you can?” he challenged the crowd. As for their response, the only thing you could make out of it was an unintelligible series of screaming and cheers that only amazed the Irish singer even more. “We’ll see about that,” he replied –– with a cheeky wink directed at the camera following his gaze. 

niall horan the show live in manila

Photographed by Christian Tierney

Horan continued the set by performing the titular track of his latest record “The Show”, taking to the grand piano on stage to perform a soulful rendition of his track. It was a powerful moment that was as affecting as it was inspiring, for Horan’s impassioned vocal delivery rang true and straight into the hearts of his fans with every note. And by the time it hit its crescendo in the track’s bridge, you could already see the sea of lights waving across the entire arena –– which definitely moved me and everyone else present as sentimental as it sounds.

Picking up the energy back up, the Irish singer by inspired live renditions to “Cross Your Mind” and “If You Leave Me” that encouraged everyone to match his energy on stage. In fact, some fans even went above and beyond at the challenge, with their frenetic belting close to overpowering every lyric that was sung by Horan. It was an amusing display of fervor in real-time, even grabbing the awe and attention of Horan as he noted, “Wow, you played a good show [everyone] –– not that I was expecting anything less!”

To cool down following such an energetic exchange, Horan began his more intimate set for the night, delivering heartfelt and acoustic guitar-laden renditions to his hit tracks “Flicker”, “This Town”, and “You Could Start a Cult.” It was a great display of his versatility, channeling an entirely different sound that embraced a vulnerability we’ve only seen flickers of over time.

The rapport built up between the soft-rock singer and his fans was at a whole new level, with an unspoken level of intimacy evident from the soft whispering along the words of these songs, as a welcome accompaniment to Horan’s outstanding performance. Horan’s choice to integrate a rousing violin performance from his bandmate Emily Konhavi only intensified the ambiance inside the arena –– creating a moment of pure connection between Horan and his fans.

As he transitioned into the second half of his set, Horan took the time to interact with his fans directly, reading through the several signs held up from the standing pit of the venue to the full-sized tarpaulins hanging from the lower box section. “I skipped my final exam…just to watch you tonight…” reads the singer, only to burst into laughter at the immediate realization of what he just read. “I do hope they give you a make-up for that one, love” he further added –– showcasing his humor and personality from such a simple exchange

Reading the large-scale “Manila Lovers” banner hung up, he took the opportunity to give a shout-out to the official Philippine street team of Lovers stating; “I just received your special gift box earlier. I absolutely love it, so thank you so much for everything you’ve done for me and this show.” “You guys are absolutely something else!”

niall horan the show live in manila

Photographed by Christian Tierney

Horan then performed a radiant interpretation of his hit single “Heaven”, which had people (even for a grown man like me) kicking their feet up in the air with just how warm and fuzzy it felt to hear the words “God only knows where this could go…Heaven won’t be the same” live and in person –– as if we were deluded into the fact that was singing it directly to us from the stage. “Everywhere” only added to the delusion even further, yet it was his soulful rendition of “Night Changes” that changed the game for everyone in attendace.

When I tell you that the tears were shed during the latter track, I kid you not –– that actually did happen. With a rush of goosebumps flooding my skin, there was a massive wave of nostalgia that came over the entire arena. It’s tough to describe just how impactful hearing that song live after all these years felt, but my God, was it quite the experience. Even by the time the track was approaching its final chorus, the audience made sure not to overpower Horan’s vocals as they joined in singing it –– as if there was an unspoken bond between everyone present to appreciate this moment exactly as it was.

Though his performances to “Paper Houses”, “Meltdown”, “Mirrors’, and “Still” may have seemed like the closing leg of the show, it still felt like it was a bit too soon for the show to end. The crowd knew it and clocked it at that –– beginning an arena chant stating “Isa pa! Isa pa!” the heartthrob had no choice but to return for a just a few more songs. 

Though the audience noticeably asked for One Direction’s “Stockholm Syndrome”, Horan decided to perform a delicate and emotional rendition of “Save My Life” –– a track that he dedicated to the Filipino audiences present. “I want to thank every one of you for spending the night here with me – and for spending your hard-earned money on this show. I know concert tickets aren’t exactly cheap in this economy, but I’m so grateful that you’re all here with me,” he quipped.

Teasing his desire to return to Manila as soon as he could, the 30-year-old singer added; “I don’t think we should make the wait six years again, [so] we have to make a deal. Not six years… seven!” –– to which his fans responded with a universal set of jeers and boos. As he laughed at his own joke, he replied back stating; “Alright, let’s make it eight [then]!” 

niall horan the show live on tour

Photographed by Christian Tierney

For his final performance of the night, Horan played his debut hit single “Slow Hands” which had everyone clapping or holding up the lights of their phones. As someone handed him a folded Philippine flag, the Irish musician waved it proudly –– eliciting applause and cheers from everyone inside the Mall of Asia Arena.

Even as Horan bid farewell to his fans and took his final bow with his amazing band, it felt like you wanted more from him. Because with every song, every interaction, and every beat, Horan delivered more than just a concert; he delivered an experience — a testament to his undeniable talent and his genuine connection with his audience. Because as the lights turned back up and the cheers faded into silence, there still remained a bittersweet longing — a desire to rewind time and relive the magic once more. 

For in that fleeting moment, Niall Horan didn’t just perform –– but he gave Manila “The Show” of their lives, proving just how far and impressive he’s come into his own career. It’s arguably the best we’ve seen from him, and perhaps the most open and interactive that he’s been with his fans (a fact that we absolutely adore).

More than just a welcome display of his talents, “The Show” Live in Manila served as a long-awaited homecoming of sorts for Horan –– with thousands of his Filipino Lovers more than willing to welcome him back to the country with open arms and an open heart. For in those two hours that we spent with Horan and his band –– I haven’t felt anything quite as intimate from the arena setting in the longest of times.

And for that, we’ll forever yearn for just one more encore.

Listen to Niall Horan’s third studio album “The Show: The Encore” below: