Ed Sheeran At 3Arena – Photos & Review
Back after a one year hiatus, the return of Ed Sheeran has been the pop music story of 2017 so far with the release of third album Divide seeing the flame-haired singer cement his place in pop’s upper echelon. While debut album + was rooted primarily in the acoustic singer-songwriter genre, it was the 2014 release of sophomore album X that proved a game changer for the 26 year old. Musically diverse, slicker than its predecessor and packed with global hits, it propelled the Suffolk singer into the realms of superstardom, even conquering the notoriously tricky American market in the process. The big task for Divide was consolidating that success and it seems Sheeran and his label left nothing to chance, assembling a Beyoncé-style team of top co-writers whose main purpose it seems is to pen songs capable of shifting millions of units. In the short few weeks since its release, Divide has accomplished what it set out to do; colonise singles charts the world over, filling the daytime airwaves and proving Adele-style insurmountable in the album charts. The record so epitomises the ‘something for everyone’ mindset that it’s sprawling genre-hopping nature feels a bit like leaving your iPod on shuffle mode over the course of its 16 songs, veering from sexy Justin Timberlake style R’n’b (‘Shape Of You’), Springsteenian drivetime nostalgia (‘Castle On The Hill’), urban hip-hop (‘Eraser’) to polished boyband balladry (‘Perfect’) and most unexpectedly of all, Irish traditional music (‘Galway Girl’, ‘Nancy Mulligan’). It sets out to cater to as many types of music fan as possible in one go, most likely in recognition of the Spotify generation’s increasingly eclectic tastes. Whilst any artist operating at this stratospheric level will always have their detractors, Sheeran has never really been a critical darling, so despite having the pull to sell out Wembley Stadium for 3 consecutive nights, it feels as if he still has something to prove to many, albeit on a musical level rather than a commercial one.
The unassuming star casually strolls on stage before kicking his now-trademark loop pedal into action for opener ‘Castle On The Hill’ which soars like Joshua Tree-era U2, complete with a lung-busting chorus of which Bono and co. would be proud. The gritty ‘Eraser’ follows the classic ‘pitfalls of fame’ narrative: “I chased the picture perfect life, I think they painted it wrong” over looping flamenco guitars. ‘Perfect’ is far more potent when stripped of its Westlife-style strings arrangement, and the song is all the better for toning down the schmaltz of the recorded version, while ‘Thinking Out Loud’, perhaps Sheeran’s finest moment, has that special timeless quality that is a hallmark of so many great songs. The Celtic/hip-hop fusion that is ‘Galway Girl’ may be one of the more divisive songs in the Ed Sheeran catalogue but with him being something of an adopted Irishman it goes down a storm as expected, with the appearance of trad group Beoga adding some welcome variety to the show (bonus points for the short nod to the Steve Earle song of the same name at the beginning). Smash-hit ‘Shape Of You’ is proof that a song can never have too many hooks, from it’s one finger keyboard riff to its earworm chorus, it will take something pretty special to dislodge it from its position as 2017’s biggest pop song. The notable lack of hit singles ‘Lego House’ and ‘Photograph’ (perhaps related to a costly legal settlement involving the latter brought about by the writers of Matt Cardle’s strikingly similar ‘Amazing’) may have disappointed some fans, but the enviable songbook Sheehan has already built up means such omissions will only become more commonplace as his repertoire grows.
As the vast 3Arena stage space isn’t exactly filled up by the slight singer, tonight’s production setup plays a massive part in terms of visual spectacle. While it appears as if the set designers couldn’t decide whether to build a UFO or a merry-go-round before meeting somewhere in the middle, the video sequences on the towering display tonight take the audience to outer space, the depths of the ocean, through sunny rainforests, roaring flames and snow capped mountains, all the while intermittently exploding in spectacular bursts of colour and confetti.
The only pressing issue for Sheeran’s live show is the sparse setup. His one-man band routine has helped set him apart from his contemporaries, yet for all the looped percussion sounds, beatboxing and string scratching, songs like ‘Don’t’ and ‘Eraser’ sorely lack the big beats that are so pivotal to the their studio recordings. When the one-guitar and loop pedal setup works, as on tonight’s standout song ‘Bloodstream’, it transcends any gimmick value, building a monumental layered wall of sound, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that many of tonight’s songs would be greatly enhanced by additional on-stage musicians.
Sheeran’s biggest strength however, is his knack for adapting to the multitude of genres to which he turns his hand, and crucially he never sounds like an artist merely trying to climb aboard any current musical trend. With a headline appearance at Glastonbury lined up in June and the inevitable stadium dates next summer, the Divide Tour is only going to get bigger and better. Signing off with a titanic 8-minute performance of ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’, tonight the 3Arena witnessed a special talent at the world-conquering pinnacle of his powers.
Support act Anne Marie