“I’m perfectly up for losing my voice tonight, Auckland! Are you with me?”
I first saw Ed Sheeran three years ago on telly, singing A-Team at the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee concert, a self-conscious 21-year-old with that unruly red hair. This is his fifth time in New Zealand since 2012, and the man on stage tonight – this unlikely hero – looks just like that guy from three year ago, but superhero powers gleaned from the brimming hearts of his millions of fans; twelve thousand of which sing every single word tonight. At times it is eerie, voices echoing from in front, behind – all sides – as if in a dimly lit cave, the intimacy belying the enormity of the venue. We could have been next door at the Tuning Fork.
Sheeran is unquestionably, deliciously all musician. Rhythm took over his body for ninety minutes and didn’t let up. There is no band. Just him, his guitar, some kick-arse graphics and a loop pedal. He leaps, red-sneakered, on top of a speaker to rap; he slings his guitar around like a dance partner and rattles and thwacks it like bongos, recording it on his loop pedal for a drum track.
“Everything you hear tonight is live, all me.”
In a concert landscape of overproduced shows with an armory of backup singers, dancers and enough mind-bending special effects to leave you feeling assaulted, it is refreshing and impressive that one man’s presence has the power to keep an audience enthralled and didn’t feel lacking.
Sheeran begins with I’m a Mess from ‘X’, followed by Lego House from his debut studio album ‘+’ (“I’m going to paint you by numbers and colour you in”). I’m a huge fan of Sheeran’s ballads – just ask my neighbours, Thinking Out Loud is my song of choice for hanging out the washing – but it is Sheeran’s rapping that stands out tonight. His most famous break up song, Don’t, had me on my feet, and when he did Take it Back five songs in, the roof came off and then blasted into space when he segued into Stevie Wonder’s Superstition and Bill Wither’s Ain’t No Sunshine. Sheeran slipped in Nina Simone’s Feelin’ Good at the start of Negro spiritual-esque Fire and I definitely heard the refrain from All By Myself at the end of Drunk. We all have our heroes.
Another of Sheeran’s heroes is Damien Rice, and his influence is apparent as the opening chords of Tenerife Sea melt across the crowd; for a moment I think he’s about to launch into a cover of Cold Water from Rice’s 2002 album ‘O‘. Maybe it was Rice who told Sheeran that single-symbol album names are the way to go.
“Anyone know the Prime Minister? Maybe he could find a way to bar me from leaving?”
Sheeran has become one of the worlds greatest stars, an unlikely hero commanding sold-out stadiums the world over. And he’s so likeable. People like that he sells his tickets for $99. That he had a cameo on Shortland Street. That he spent a couple of hours on air with Polly and Grant on Classic Hits. He is not afraid to give a piece of himself, or to try something new and risk failing, or to look like an idiot. I feel something like hope for the hundreds of children and teenagers in tonight’s audience.
Cheers Ed. One of the best performances Auckland has seen this year so far.
- I’m a Mess
- Lego House
- Don’t / No Diggity / Nina
- Drunk/All by Myself
- Take it Back / Superstition / Ain’t No Sunshine
- Tenerife Sea
- Thinking Out Loud
- Feeling Good / I Feel Fire
- The A-Team
- Give me Love
- You Need Me, I Don’t Need You)