Ed Sheeran: ÷ Tour, James Blunt as opening act
Date Seen: July 25, 2017
Cost of Ticket: $80 (Face Value $250)
Perhaps James Blunt said it best: Ed Sheeran is the most successful male solo artist in the world right now. It's impossible not to have heard his hits played repeatedly on the radio. Unfortunately, that is probably the best place you could have heard them.
First let's look at 3 different words: Performer, Singer & Musician. Ed is 2 out of 3. The guy can sing and he can play guitar but he is not a performer. Yet, he does have the charisma and dimples to keep the diehard fans' complete attention for the brief 2 hours on stage. Logistically, it is difficult for most singers to 'perform' when standing in front of a mic stand and playing the guitar. But this could have been easily overcome with a hands-free microphone. Ed...stationary = boring.
Next. Have you heard of live looping? No? That's ok. Most musicians don't use it. Essentially, it's a technology that allows a musician to live-record a piece of music (ie. enough chords to fill a verse) and then with the touch of a pedal or laptop, replay it continuously to an audience. This is Ed Sheeran's answer to a band. So he creates his musical accompaniment by himself in layers and then sings to it. Don't get me wrong, this takes a huge amount of talent. He live-records music and plays it back to the audience and layers upon it, and then sing on top of all of the music - all in order to try and produce the same level of sound he had on the record. It's complicated as hell and according to stats, only about 11% of musicians use live looping. Of those same musicians, 51% of musicians didn't even know what live looping was. Here is why I don't like it. Everyone gives Britney Spears attitude for not singing her songs live. She does sing live, but she sings along to a pre-recorded vocal track. Now the sound guy keeps her live vocal track low (and sometimes silent) because she is dancing, writing around on the floor and jumping off of trees. But I don't see a huge difference between Britney singing along to her own vocal track and Ed playing along to his own pre-recorded guitar track, even if he did (or didn't - we don't really know) record it moments before in front of us. It looked cheesy having guitar music playing while he clearly wasn't strumming the guitar. The point of it all is that he does it by himself, without a band. Honestly, I would have preferred a band or hell just a background music track. At least then he would have the opportunity to 'perform' and interact better with the audience.
Where Ed shines is his catchy tunes and he has a few of them. My personal highlights include Don't, Photograph, Thinking Out Loud, Sing and Shape of You. These songs give Ed full reign to shine and show why he has won over 45 major music awards. And the crowd loves it...and I mean really loves it. If you were at the show, look around and look to see who is crying. Mr. Sheeran has a special talent of stirring emotions at the "Cougars and Kittens" party that is his concert. Now between his massive hits was a whole lot of disjointed music. While most of it was forgettable, the different genres were not. Perfect is a beautiful ballad that would be an ideal wedding song. This is followed by Nancy Mulligan is a full-on Irish jig. I can't forget his cover of the jazzy show tune Feeling Good. And why not throw Eraser in there, an acoustic rap song with a balladesque chorus. Then Happier, a heart wrenchingly slow sad lil melody. Overall, the set list could use some redirecting and cleaning up. I do have to remember that Ed has only released 3 studio albums and doesn't have an exhaustive catalogue to choose from.
I don't write reviews for shock value or so that I can get a heap of hate mail. I try to watch concerts objectively and give my honest opinion. But what I enjoy the most is watching artists grow into real performers over time. I first saw Ed as the opening act for Taylor Swift's Red Tour. He was decent but forgettable. Now at 26 years of age, he isn't as forgettable anymore. But I do think he needs to take his showmanship to a new level in the future. And with the talent that he has, I doubt that will be an issue.
And on a very pleasant note, the opening act, James Blunt, was a breath of fresh air. He played a set mixed with his bigger hits Beautiful and Bonfire Heart while mixing in new material that felt very familiar. He and his band played for just over 40 minutes (about 1/3 of the time that Ed was on stage). Photo of James and I below.
By the way, Ed, if you're reading this, I really really beg you...go hire a band. You deserve it!