By now, you ought to know that Ed Sheeran uses a loop station to quickly build layers of sounds and vocals that he records on the spot, so they replicate the feel of a full band.
You ought to know that – but you might not.
Even after the British pop star performed megahit “Shape of You” at the Grammy Awards in February while CBS’s overhead camera captured snippets of his oddly mesmerizing talent, Ed Sheeran haters who apparently missed the memo continued to accuse him of using pre-recorded backing tracks.
And in June, when trolls eviscerated him on Twitter following his performance at the Glastonbury Festival in England, the 26-year-old Sheeran fired back: “Never thought I’d have to explain it, but everything I do in my live show is live, it’s a loop station, not a backing track. Please google x.”
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Which is why perhaps the only complaint I have about his brisk 94-minute set on Sunday night at Charlotte’s Spectrum Center is the fact that the sold-out crowd was never given a good look at him on that loop pedal.
Seriously, watch his Grammy performance, if you haven’t. Whether you appreciate his folk-y brand of acoustic pop or not, you’ve gotta appreciate the artistry, and he should absolutely have let fans at the “Divide” tour concert appreciate it more fully – via a bird’s-eye view. Unfortunately, from head-on, it’s pretty difficult to get much of a sense of the various strings he’s pulling.
Oh, well. The ginger-locked singer has obviously decided to let his guitar-playing, his voice and his rapport with the audience do the heavy lifting, and those talents can be described as agile, versatile and easy, in that particular order.
Wearing a black T-shirt made by Hoax (a street- and skate-inspired clothing company he invested in earlier this year), black jeans and gray-green sneakers, Sheeran ping-ponged from grandiose rock to funky rap to lovey-dovey ballads while swapping out guitars after every single one of the 17 songs in his set.
Eleven of those songs were from 2017’s “Divide”; five more came from 2014’s “Multiply.” The only two “older” songs he included were the ballad “The A Team” – done fully acoustic, with no looping, amid a sea of cellphone flashlights and a mass singalong – and the night’s raucous, rap-happy closer, “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” which provided a quick glimpse at Sheeran’s beatboxing skills and was stretched out to twice its original length.
Though it was basically a one-man show, which unfolded beneath a bank of 20 video screens resembling the spaceship from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” Sheeran did bring another human on stage during his set, for just one song.
It wasn’t opener James Blunt (who was a blast despite the fact that I only knew That One Song going in), but rather a guy named P.J. Smith; the headliner introduced him as a carpenter who reluctantly agreed to play piano on “How Would You Feel (Paean).” Smith’s “Soup of the Day: Whiskey!” T-shirt threatened to steal the show, and his passion for playing was palpable.
Meanwhile, for the rest of the night, Sheeran tried his best to make Charlotte feel special.
After ripping through the soaring guitar anthem “Castle On the Hill” to open the show, he made mention of being fired up about a rare opportunity to get crazy on a Sunday night (due to the three-day weekend), and added: “I’m also excited ’cause when I first came to America, Charlotte was one of the first places that wasn’t New York or Los Angeles that embraced my music and played it on their radios.”
Then, before pop-blues number “Dive,” he talked about going for “a lovely walk in Charlotte” prior to his performance, remarking, “I think the accent here is one of my favorite in the country. ... It’s a very homely, very warm, welcoming accent.” (Homely means something more positive in Sheeran’s home country than it does here, FYI.)
And he came out for his encore wearing a purple Charlotte Hornets jersey emblazoned with Kemba Walker’s No. 15, launching into “Shape of You” by changing the first line to say “Charlotte isn’t the best place to find a lover / So the bar is where I go.”
It did occur to me that his twist would have been more flattering, probably, as: “The club isn’t the best place to find a lover / So Charlotte is where I go.” Of course, if I’d been distracted by a dazzling live video of Sheeran using his loop station, the words might have gone right over my head...
Ed Sheeran’s setlist
1. “Castle on the Hill”
3. “The A Team”
4. “Don’t” / “New Man”
8. “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here”
9. “Galway Girl”
10. “How Would You Feel (Paean)”
13. “Nancy Mulligan”
14. “Thinking Out Loud”
16. “Shape of You”
17. “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”