Ed Sheeran is probably one of the most sought after young singer-songwriters right now. Yet, few people know that Sheeran’s career does not derive from the famous “right moment, right time”- discovery by an influential music agent but a long haul of numerous gigs (around 1,000) and days on an empty stomach until folks finally realized “this guy is actually quite good”.
When Sheeran’s career finally went through the roof after releasing his record ‘+‘ three years ago, fans feared he was going to go mainstream: tossing his lyrical talent in the ‘only-money-matters’-bin, choosing to sing about the damsel in distress rather than the messed up music industry. Fortunately, the young troubadour may have given the industry his voice but he kept the keys to his mouth and brain.
Sheeran’s second studio album ‘X‘ (pronounced ‘multiply’), fulfills every fan’s expectation of an Ed Sheeran record: edgy, heavily rap influenced, fast tracks (‘Don’t’, ‘Take it Back’) accompanied by epic pop anthems (‘Sing’, ‘I See Fire’), as well as
romantic, but never overly cheesy love songs (‘Thinking out Loud’, ‘Afire Love’), serving as the pinch of extra salt to this excellent musical dinner.
On 6 November Sheeran played in front of an utterly mesmerized (mostly female) crowd of 12,000 at the O2 arena in Hamburg. Needless to say, the concert was sold out months in advance.
The striking thing about Ed Sheeran’s concerts is his uniquely sparse stage set-up – all he needs is his trusty guitar and a loop pedal. There is no band or background singers accompanying him, which justifies the odd comparison with the medieval troubadours in a way, as they used to captivate their audience single-handedly, too.
What makes Sheeran’s interpretations of the tracks so special is his technique of incorporating lyrics from other artists into his own songs (i.e. ‘Don’t’ and Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’) and, of course, his impressively skillful use of the loop pedal, which gives him the opportunity to overlay his range of different pitches, and renders background singers unnecessary.
The concert’ s setlist included not only numerous songs from his latest successful record ‘X‘ but also fan favorites of ‘+’ such as ‘You Need Me Man, I Don’t Need You’, ‘A Team’ and ‘Lego House’.
‘Take it Back’ was one of Sheeran’s most exhilarating tunes of the night; a heavily rap influenced song in which the musician dwells on his career and the shady music business. The ginger singer was clearly enjoying himself, jumping all over the stage while belting out the lyrics. However, this turned out to be a risky move, as the track’s fast pace left him out of breath for the final chorus. Fortunately, the audience was with him all the way and supported him on his last stumbling meters to the finish line, making this highly energetic interpretation one of the most memorable moments of the evening.
The same goes for ‘Afire Love’, which is based on Sheeran’s late grandfather who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease, and depicts his experience with the disease’s inexorable progress. For obvious reasons, ‘Afire Love’ is an extremely emotional song for Sheeran, which is why he asked the audience to stay silent and just listen. When a few girls interrupted the artist right at the beginning, he stopped, waited for the audience to finally calm down, and started all over again. And, undoubtedly, Sheeran’s plan was a genius move. His voice carried so much emotion in this tune, the completely silent concert hall was only filled with his melodious words of sorrow and despair. This was one of the moments when I was glad to have brought tissues with me.
However, ‘You need me man, I don’t need you’ was the performance of the night. It is one of my favourite songs from his first studio album ‘+’ and the live interpretation easily surpassed even that already quite high bar. The singer managed to capture the audience with his rant on the music business, never hastening the pace on this one, and, as a cherry on top, he embedded another song into the contagious rhythm (‘My eyes are red’), prompting the audience to sing and sway along. Especially in this tune he works wonders with his magical loop pedal, creating a truly epic song with only him on the stage.
Sheeran’s performance exceeded the expectations I had after listening to his record since its release in June. In a live setting, his contagious vocal style and ability to animate a crowd to jump, dance and sing along with every heartfelt lyric outshines the already impressive studio rendition.
Maria was listening to ‘Don’t’ and ‘Photograph’ by Ed Sheeran while writing.