Review: Ed Sheeran skips pomp, theatrics to share heart

Ed Sheeran really cares about giving you your money’s worth when you go to his concerts. He said so.

“Everyone’s having a good time right? I want to make sure you get your money’s worth,” he said about halfway through.

After Sheeran’s performance Thursday night at Time Warner Cable Arena, it’s safe to say he accomplished his goal. As fans exited, they couldn’t help but sing in unison the vocalization of “Sing.” Even the Time Warner Cable Arena employees played maestros as they waved their hands and smiled at the crowd.

And all of this for some 23-year-old from England who started his show Thursday night by emerging from the shadows at the rear of the stage around 8:30 p.m., picking up his guitar and playing “I’m a Mess.” No pomp. No theatrics. Just Ed.

“My name is Ed, and my job for the next two hours is to entertain you,” he said afterward. “And your job is to be entertained.”

During this leg of his first-ever headlining arena tour of North America, Sheeran played alone on the stage for nearly two hours, working a sound box on the stage for the background music and effects.

The only other prop onstage? More than a dozen screens behind him that were used occasionally for supporting video production. For instance, when he sang his hit, “Lego House,” Lego men and pieces fell across the screen.

When you have the talent and versatility that Sheeran has, there’s little need for a big production.

When he sang “One,” it was easy to imagine him singing it on a quiet summer evening outside of his girlfriend’s window. When he sang “Take It Back,” it was just as easy to imagine him performing a rap battle at some underground club. Regardless of the style, Sheeran’s vocals and musical dexterity were strong throughout.

Sheeran himself seemed humble and relatable – and maybe even a little self-deprecating.

He told the story behind “Little Bird,” saying that when he was 18 – and “very scruffy and quite a chubby kid,” as he said – he was dating a girl who wanted to be a veterinarian. She found a chicken on the side of the road that had a broken leg and, while he took a nap, she tried to fix the leg. Instead, the chicken died, Sheeran said.

“I don’t know if the chicken died from natural wounds or trying to be healed,” Sheeran said to laughter. “This song is in memory of the chicken.”

Child of the ’90s that he is, Sheeran even took the time to cover the chorus of “No Diggity” by Blackstreet at the end of his own song, “Don’t,” as well as “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” by Backstreet Boys later in the night.

The mostly young female crowd ate it up. At one point in the show, one girl threw an – ahem – article of clothing on stage while he was performing. And I counted at least five marriage proposals.

When the crowd wasn’t shrieking in glee at Sheeran (especially when he decided near the end he wanted to get some pictures of the crowd), they were singing along loudly to such songs as “Drunk.”

Like yin and yang, Rudimental – Sheeran’s opening act – was much flashier. The band, based out of East London, is composed of four main members: Piers Aggett, Kesi Dryden, Amir Amor and Leon Rolle. Rudimental also featured a number of female vocalists during performances, including Anne-Marie Nicholson during “Waiting All Night.”

Their set was just as entertaining as Sheeran’s, reminding me of both a New Orleans jazz festival and a Calypso party in the Caribbean. And their energy was nonstop, playing with all the gusto of their very first live performance and with all the talent of a tenured band.

Sheeran’s performance may not have been as manic as Rudimental, but he connected with his fans in a very real way. It’s understandable why, too. While his music is catchy and mostly upbeat, its real beauty comes from the lyrics, most of which Sheeran wrote.

It’s like a diary from someone who isn’t afraid to explore the grittier topics: prostitution (“The A Team”) addiction (“Bloodstream”) and broken homes (“Runaway”).

He noted that he found it both “heartbreaking and heartwarming” that the song fans said they connected with most on his new album, X (pronounced Multiply), was “Afire Love,” a song about Sheeran’s grandfather, who battled Alzheimer’s for 20 years before dying in 2013.

When you’ve already poured your heart out into your lyrics, it’s hard not to give the kind of heartfelt performance that Sheeran did Thursday night.