19th July 2015
My arm is waving rhythmically in time to strums of an acoustic guitar, joining a sea of light which beams magnificently from thousands of mobile phone flashlights. A harmonic chorus, culminated by a choir of 90,000 eager ticket-holders, acts as the backing vocals to Ed Sheeran at his third consecutive night of sold-out shows at London's iconic Wembley Stadium. The atmosphere can only be described as electric.
“There are,” booms an unmistakable voice with not even an inkling of nervous undertone, “a hell of a lot of you here”. He’s not wrong; this is the third and final night of an impressive three night stint at the prestigious venue, to which a grand total of around 270,000 people have paid to view over the course of the weekend. Usually home to rock tyrants – and Madonna – the Wembley Stadium stage is set for the Suffolk singer-songwriter. Ed Sheeran’s Wembley slot is not just a show, it is a statement to both fans and critics alike. It’s a big "f' you" to those who said he would never sell out Wembley at such an early stage in his career and likewise to the music industry who favour the incessant crooning of artists such as Meghan Trainor and Pitbull.
You’ll always hear Ed Sheeran referred to as “the boy next door done good” – an ordinary bloke who eats in Nando’s and watches The Jeremy Kyle Show JUST LIKE US – but I feel this is a slightly unfair label. Sheeran is an extremely gifted musician, with a pub-sized ego but stadium-sized talents. We shouldn’t allow the fact that he’s down-to-earth shadow his heart-wrenching lyrics and clever melodies. Ed Sheeran is successful in his own right, having built up a devoted fanbase using determination and hard-work over many years before the land of global superstar-dom was even a possibility.
Realistically, the Wembley stage should devour the man who waves awkwardly as he walks on stage armed with nothing but a guitar and loop-pedal. The 90,000-strong crowd chant his name and cheer tumultuously as Sheeran launches into his first song; the melancholic I’m A Mess. Many detractors assumed Ed would not be able to pull these shows off, but he proves them wrong effortlessly, with the energetic audience up on their feet, swaying and clapping along for the duration without any sign of wavering interest. They remain enraptured by Sheeran’s stunning lyricism throughout, soaking up every word as if hearing it for the first time. This is certainly not the case; Ed Sheeran’s sophomore album offering, ‘x’ (as in ‘multiply’… obviously), was the biggest-selling of 2014 and has just surged back to number one in the UK over a year after its original release, neatly coinciding with his record-breaking Wembley performances.
There were no mind-blowing pyrotechnics, unnecessary costume changes or gyrating backing dancers for Ed to hide behind, but he certainly didn’t need them. Using the afore-mentioned loop pedal, Sheeran concocts his music entirely single-handedly by strumming or beating his trusty guitar. The big screens behind project Ed’s cheerful face and famous ginger hair to the audience. There are no gimmicks; such are apparently dispensable features when matched by a very talented man.
A few pleasant surprises thrilled the crowd, including unexpected homage to Stevie Wonder and Nina Simone as well as fervent rapping to songs such as Take It Back and You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. Sheeran is clearly very passionate about his work, halting one song and piercing the music with a cry of “cut it” when the loop pedal ran out of battery halfway through, reminding us that this was a live performance as well as the oeuvre of a professional and perfectionist musician.
The show was raw, impassioned and inexplicably potent, cementing Ed’s position as a legend of the current music scene. He’s a pleasant breathe of fresh air to the industry after the bombardment of auto-tune and meaninglessly sexual lyrics which dominate the charts nowadays. Technically still at the start of his career (we’re still waiting for follow-up albums, “divide”, “subtract” and "equals: the greatest hits"), Ed Sheeran left the screaming audience craving more, with the crowds chanting the chorus to his infectious hit ‘Sing’ all the way to Wembley Park tube station, unfaltered even by the pouring rain.
Ed Sheeran - Wembley Stadium (Sunday 7th July 2015)
By Jack Edwards