Fifth Time’s the Charm: Ed Sheeran at Bridgestone Arena, 9.13.14

Throwback to only a few years ago and his name was relatively unknown. He was simply a young red-headed British lad busking on the streets with just an acoustic guitar.

Fast forward to present day: he’s garnered numerous awards including Grammy nominations, a No. 1 charting album, a stint as opener for Taylor Swift’s massive Red tour, his own successful headlining tours and accolades galore. And the he’s only 23. Holy moly, that’s a heck of a resume.

Disclaimer: I’ve seen Ed Sheeran in concert five times now. The first was in 2012 at the Ryman when he opened for Snow Patrol. Then there was his sold-out headlining show at the Ryman less than a year later and another sold-out show from that same tour in Louisville. Last spring I caught him at a charity show at Royal Albert Hall in London and now Saturday night at the Bridgestone in Nashville brought my Ed count to five.

Excessive? Perhaps to some, but I’ve felt like a proud momma watching her baby grow up as I’ve seen Ed go from a mere opener to a world-wide act able to sell out three nights at Madison Square Garden all in a matter of two years. Even my Coldplay boiz took longer to reach that level of success.

When he announced dates for his latest tour promoting his new album X, I felt obligated to go, like when your kid has a home soccer game that would make you a dreadfully sucky parent to miss. But don’t confuse my feelings of obligation with a lack of excitement or enjoyment for the shows – quite the contrary. I’d compare it to seeing your kid singlehandedly win the state championship and looking on proudly as everyone goes excessively nuts in adoration for them. (But now I’mma end this mother metaphor before it gets too weird. Plus, if I’m going to compare myself to a family member of Ed, I should probably choose the role of his wife, am I right ladiezzz? Jk, just hit me up if you ever need a tour manager or something, Ed.)

Given the more intimate settings that I’ve seen him in, I was a bit weary of the fact that he’d be playing at Bridgestone. After all, I align arenas with rock and pop acts, not a dude who doesn’t even have a backing band.

However, he didn’t fail to disappoint.

After an energetic opening set from the UK dance group Rudimental, Ed sauntered onto the dark stage to massive shrieks and applause (but mainly shrieks… really, really loud shrieks). He opened with “I’m A Mess” from his new album. This allowed him to showcase his top-notch looping skills by building the bridge gradually and finally ending in a bursting choir of harmonies made up solely of his own voice. It was good. Real good.

Favorites like Lego House, Drunk and Give Me Love from his first album, +, brought about some major audience sing-alongs, but even the new material was well-known by the crowd. Some powerful tunes of the night included Bloodstream, another song with a bridge that provided an opportunity for more excellent loop pedal work, and Thinking Out Loud, which arguably displays the best of Ed’s voice. Talk about soul, am I right?!

What’s especially noteworthy about the show was his ability to command an entire arena of people with simply an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal. Audience reaction varied from dancing to tears to swaying to hands in the air as the show progressed. The majority of the crowd even stayed on its feet for the entire two-hour set. And no, it wasn’t just teen girls at this show, though they did represent a large majority of the audience. If you looked closely enough, you could spot some couples and middle-aged women here and there.

Besides feeling all the feels there are to feel, there are a few other classic features of an Ed Sheeran show:

  1. The requests for silence during the slower songs. This usually requires a speech from Ed, where he instructs the audience to “rest your voices for four minutes.” This is followed by a few opportunists in the crowd who utilize the silence to exclaim their love for Ed. Then there’s the proceeding shushes from other annoyed crowd members and, finally, Ed’s reminder to the audience that ignoring the rule-breakers will silence them quicker than any shushes will. I was surprised he attempted this in an arena, but after a few shouts of adoration, the audience complied for the most part. This gave Ed the opportunity to showcase the somber beauty of “Afire Love,” a song that narrates the story of his grandfather’s Alzheimer’s-induced health decline.

  1. His declarations that the crowd is now the Gospel Choir of (insert city here). So you all better sing “until you lose your voice” OR ELSE. During the Nashville shows in particular, Ed likes to remind the audience that because we’re in Nashville, we all likely can sing and harmonize properly. Pressure’s on, I guess? During this particular show, he used “Give Me Love” as the backdrop to practice his mass-choir conducting skills. I daresay we didn’t sound too bad, either and who doesn’t love a good ole’ mass sing-along?

  1. His audience snapshot. Toward the end of the show, he will ask the audience to pose for a picture, which he takes himself and then promptly posts to Instagram after the show. This gives infatuated young ladies the perfect platform for comments such as “idk what I’d do without u hun :)” and “STOP IT I’M CRYING” (indeed, these are real comments from real teen girls).

Though he is absurdly talented, what’s most impressive to me about Ed is his path to success. It wasn’t by luck or familial ties that he landed at the top; rather, it was by hard work and self-discipline that he achieved some crazy accomplishments in only a relatively small span of time. At 16, he moved to London to pursue his music career, and according to Wikipedia (real credible source, I know) he had played 312 shows just in 2009 alone. Though I have no desire to be a singer/songwriter, his example of a proper work ethic is enough to make me reassess my own career goals and begin the arduous task of actually accomplishing them rather than just talking about them.

So although everyone may not dig his music, there’s no denying that he deserves every bit of praise and weird teen adoration that he receives. He’s one act that’s certainly worth seeing once or twice (or five times).

In the song “Thinking Out Loud,” there’s a line about a speculative time in the future when “the crowd doesn’t remember my name…”

Doubtful, Ed. Judging from the unfathomable decibel of screams reached in Bridgestone on Saturday, the audience is unlikely to ever forget your name.

Setlist:

  • I’m A Mess
  • Lego House
  • Don’t
  • Drunk
  • Take It Back
  • One
  • Bloodstream
  • Tenerife Sea
  • Runaway
  • Little Bird
  • Afire Love
  • Thinking Out Loud
  • Give Me Love
  • I See Fire

Encore:

  • You Need Me, I Don’t Need You
  • A Team
  • Sing
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