Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Ed Sheeran at Capital One Arena



Mere seconds after stepping on stage at Capital One Arena on Tuesday, British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran brought his largely teenage audience to its feet with the upbeat radio track “Castle on the Hill.” Using just a guitar — one of several to be played throughout the night — and a loop pedal, Sheeran sang the fan-favorite track with emotion and sentimentality, inviting the audience to share in his personal experiences and setting the tone for the night ahead.

For the second track, Sheeran opted for lesser-known but still beloved track “Eraser” from his latest album, “÷.” While the original track features pop vocals and musical flourishes, Sheeran stripped down the song for his live performance. “A Team,” which sparked Sheeran’s success back in 2011, came next, encouraging the audience to sit back and settle into a show filled with both Sheeran’s new songs as well as his older work.

Sheeran made it clear early on in the concert that he wanted his show to be fun for audience members, including the “disgruntled boyfriend” and “dad forced to attend,” as he jokingly dubbed them. After admitting that he often struggles to let loose at concerts, Sheeran encouraged every person in the crowd to leave their inhibitions behind by singing at the top of their lungs and bringing their best dance moves.

After speaking with the audience, Sheeran dove back into his music, combining “Don’t” and “New Man,” two songs centered on the theme of spite, for an angst-filled mashup perfect for any post-breakup playlist. As the concert progressed, he continued to lead the audience in clapping or pumping their fists in the air — driving home the point that no one should be afraid to let go and lose themselves to the music.  

Among the night’s standout performances were “Galway Girl” and “Nancy Mulligan,” two tracks from “÷” that simultaneously pay homage to Sheeran’s Irish heritage and celebrate the beauty of young love. Several instrumentations that round out the album’s rich sound, such as whistles and percussion, were replaced by Sheeran’s layered vocals and accompanied by a dazzling array of lights that transformed the arena into a discotheque.

To contrast the buoyant dance numbers, Sheeran handpicked some of his most cherished love songs to highlight his boyish charm and keep his audience swooning. For his tenth song, the famous wildcard slot on Sheeran’s “÷” tour, Sheeran selected “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here,” a gentle whisper of a song directed toward the couples in the crowd. This performance was immediately followed by a romantic rendition of “Photograph,” a ballad that first flooded radio waves in 2014. As Sheeran sang, the screen behind him reflected his face on Polaroid pictures, creating a more intimate and romantic atmosphere.

Then came the tune every audience member was eagerly anticipating: “Perfect,” the track from “÷” that has replaced “Thinking Out Loud” as the quintessential first dance song at many modern weddings. Sheeran’s blue eyes pierced the souls of all the people in the room, and his soft guitar plucked at their heartstrings. Behind him, rose petals gently floated on the screen as soft lighting illuminated the audience.

The concert ended on a brighter note with “Sing,” a bouncy track which combines Sheeran’s effortless falsettos with his often-overlooked ability to rap. As his pitch escalated, so did the excitement in the stadium. By the end, everyone was on their feet showering Sheeran with affection and hoping for just one more song.

Sheeran granted the request by performing “Shape of You,” the sultry top track from “÷,” as his encore. For the performance, Sheeran traded his usual innocent image for an edgier one, tapping into the rebellious sentiment inherent in the song. Sheeran continued to layer his own vocals with the loop pedal as the song progressed, until the sounds of infinite voices filled the entirety of the arena.

For his final number, Sheeran went back to his roots with the intense, rap-heavy “I Need You, You Don’t Need Me” from his debut album “+.” He delivered his most complex performance yet, using sound and stage to their full potentials. The room erupted in shades of red and black as audience members marveled at Sheeran’s endless endurance. When the song ended, Sheeran humbly delivered a simple “thank you” to the adoring crowd and called it a night.

Credit for the tour’s success should also be given to James Blunt, Sheeran’s witty opening act best known for his 2005 hit “You’re Beautiful,” which Blunt himself labeled as “a song most of you were probably conceived to.” His humor and raspy vocals provided the perfect complement to Sheeran’s gentleness and enthusiasm.

Sheeran’s show director and lighting designer, Mark Cunniffe, also deserves recognition for designing the distinctive cloud-shaped set replete with triangular light pieces and dozens of miniature screens. The images and lighting were understated, but reflected the story of each song, echoing the poetic nature of Sheeran’s lyrics.

In an age where concerts are often characterized by crowded stages, deafening speakers and bass so aggressive it leaves the audience trembling long after the concert is over, it almost seems like the days of acclaimed acoustic performances are over — but not quite yet. With his nimble fingers and steady foot, Sheeran ditched the theatrics, elevating acoustic performance to a new level. It only took one night and a few guitars for Sheeran to convince a crowd that what matters most is the music, and nothing else.

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    Barbara SutliffSep 23, 2017 at 5:14 pm

    I was at both shows. I am 59 and was there with my 19 year old daughter as well as an over 60 British gentleman who has been following Ed at shows around the globe starting with London pubs and a friend in her late 20s who drove several hours just for the evening. While at my first shows in 2014 there were a lot of teenage girls, I think that demographic has widened quite a bit. Ed mentions that in interviews and my friends and I see it at shows. I have many “Ed” friends from online many of whom I’ve met in person and a lot of us are moms of varying ages literally from around the world. That’s really the only part of your review that I take issue with!