While watching Ed Sheeran perform live, accompanied only by a guitar, two microphones, and a looping station, one must wonder if he ever gets lonely on stage by himself.
With a sold-out crowd of nearly 15,000 people screaming his lyrics back at him, he’s probably just fine.
Sheeran played for nearly two hours Thursday at Amalie Arena, keeping audience members on their toes the whole time. He has no backing band, instead recording small sections of guitar and harmonizing vocals that loop over a beat for almost every song. He must maintain virtually perfect pitch and rhythm or face hearing his mistakes over and over. As Sheeran built each song from the bottom up, concertgoers had to wait for a distinctive rhythm or background vocal to identify which song he was about to play.
Opening with “I’m a Mess,” an album track from his latest release, “X,” Sheeran made it clear that serious fans would be rewarded with more than just the hits. Of course, the hits were enthusiastically embraced. The first chord of 2015 smash hit “Thinking Out Loud” garnered the loudest screams of the evening, with “Lego House” also inspiring a passionate sing-along.
His penchant for including unexpected covers in his set list is well documented, so Sheeran performed many of his songs in a different key than their recorded versions to allow for a number of delightful medleys and mash-ups. His bitter break-up anthem “Don’t” led into parts of Chris Brown’s “Loyal,” Blackstreet’s “No Diggity,” and his own “Nina.”
A nearly 10-minute performance of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” included the “running through the six with my woes” refrain of Drake’s “Know Yourself” and the chorus of 50 Cent’s “In da Club.” Surprisingly, the imagery of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good” introduced his “I See Fire,” from the most recent “Hobbit” movie, quite well.
Long-time fans were pleased to hear non-singles like “Drunk” and “Take It Back.” He even played fan-favorite “Give Me Love” after explaining he rarely plays it anymore. Based on its ensuing freak-out, the crowd appreciated the choice.
Sheeran also made sure to include many of the heartfelt, acoustic ballads he is known for, including “The A-Team,” the single that brought him into the mainstream. Women swooned as he sang about true love in “Tenerife Sea” and “One” while wearing a black T-shirt and cargo shorts. That is the great appeal of Ed Sheeran.
Indeed, it speaks volumes about his musical abilities that he can enrapture a crowd without an enormous stage or fancy costumes or even a big collection of hit songs. Sheeran seems genuinely excited to perform — even more because the audience wants to hear him perform.
His effect was clear at the finale of his show. He closed with his biggest hit, last summer’s “Sing,” and lead the audience in a chant of “oh’s.” As it continued, he put his guitar down, abandoned his microphone and began walking backward until he reached the stairs. It was then that he left the audience, quite literally, singing.