The British fivesome One Direction might not have triumphed during their season on the British singing competition “The X Factor,” but as far as American crossover plans go, they’ve definitely won the long game. Thursday night’s charming, loose set at Gillette Stadium — their first of three nights in Foxborough this week — made it clear that they won’t be tossed to the boy-band dustbin without a fight, either.
The bandmates — Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles, and Louis Tomlinson — have released three albums over their short life so far, and Thursday’s career-spanning set, which was accentuated by pyrotechnics and streamers from almost the first note, showed how their music has shifted stylistically over that time. Bright, harmony-rich pop rock such as their self-esteem booster “What Makes You Beautiful” and the besotted “One Thing” helped them make their mark, but last year’s “Midnight Memories” has them getting a little more serious with tracks that nod to Mumford & Sons such as “Through the Dark” and the pensive “Story of My Life,” both of which were performed to much adulation from the generation-spanning, sign-and-homemade-shirt-equipped audience.
Unlike other boy bands, One Direction doesn’t use performances to engage in trifles like unison dancing; any move-busting that happened onstage Thursday was brief, and most were in jest. Instead, each member turns on the charm in particular ways.
The affable Payne served as ad hoc MC for the evening, offering copious thanks to those in attendance; Horan took on guitar duties in addition to his vocal commitments; Styles, the group’s raven-haired brooder, used judicious pointing to electrify sections of the crowd, and at one point the in-stadium cameras caught him chilling onstage reading a Charles Bukowski book. (His deeply felt vocal performances, particularly on the ballad “You & I,” made the reading material seem appropriate.) The devotion they inspired wasn’t surprising given their ability to shake the social media world to its core, but the hints of where they might go in the future were alluring.
The Australian quartet 5 Seconds of Summer opened; like the headliners, they projected a cheerful cheekiness that made the cavernous stadium feel a bit more intimate.
They’re a boy-band-as-actual band, distilling “classic rock” influences across generational and subcultural divides (drummer Ashton Irwin wore a Mötley Crüe shirt; bassist Calum Hood repped the Dead) into hooky, harmony-filled singalongs like their breakthrough hit “She Looks So Perfect,” which manages to pair references to American Apparel with name-checks of mix tapes from 1994. They closed out their set by announcing they’d be back in the Boston area next summer — a sign that they, like the band that’s taken them under their wing, have ambitions toward permanence.
Correction: An earlier version of this review misidentified the song “Through the Dark.”