It’s a difficult feat to make a stadium venue seem intimate. For fans sitting in the back of the nosebleed sections, it’s often up to the mega productions and electrifying sounds of a band or artist to carry the spectacle of the show. For Ed Sheeran, a backing band and the cliches of a pop show are trifling. Instead, Sheeran, his guitar and a loop pedal draw the back of the venue right up to the foot of the stage, creating a laid-back and personal experience for every member of the crowd.
Sheeran last graced his Portland fans with his one-man musical feats over two years ago. Back in June of 2015, Sheeran brought his X tour to the Moda Center. Within minutes of tickets going on sale, every seat of the 15,000 capacity venue had been sold. Two years later, and his fans' devotion has not dimmed at all. In March of this year, after the announcement of the new ÷ tour, tickets sold out just as quickly.
Fitting with his choice of intimacy over grandeur, Ed Sheeran took no time to hit the stage. Skipping the intros, fireworks and curtain drops, as soon as the lights went down, Sheeran was on stage, guitar in hand, immediately launching into his recent hit, “Castle on the Hill.”
There’s nothing louder than the shocked and excited screams of a pop show fanbase. With a majority of the crowd being teenagers, the deafening roar that accompanied Sheeran's arrival on the stage hit with force usually reserved for a full boy band. The ear-splitting shrieks were soon enough cut by Sheeran’s voice, which instantly silenced and captivated the crowd into an almost hypnotic state. Some sang along, some cheered, but most just watched.
Sheeran is famed for his use of a loop pedal, trusting himself with his own backing instrumentals rather than a band or prerecorded tracks. This option is less expensive, as opener James Blunt slyly pointed out, quipping, “While Ed’s out here with his guitar and his loop pedal, I’ll be backstage thinking, ‘Damn, a loop pedal. That would have been way cheaper than hiring a whole band.'" The use of the loop pedal also puts the spotlight on Sheeran’s own guitar skill. Layering beats and harmonizing chords atop each other, Sheeran created an organic sound suited for a live setting, arguably an improvement upon the sometimes overproduced quality of his recorded materials.
This stripped-down one man sound spread throughout the arena, creating the intimate vibe that Sheeran is so perfect at preserving no matter the size of the crowd or venue. Although his sound moved well through the open space, Sheeran knew that some visual production was needed to create a whole and memorable experience for the fans farthest from the action.
Sheeran brought along a massive stage design, moving from the ground up in a sort of hourglass shape, encircled completely in enormous LED screens that aided the visual spectacle, splicing together live images of Sheeran himself with artwork and designs fit perfectly to the song and album themes.
As Sheeran sang, “I’m on my way / Driving at 90 down those country lanes,” a backdrop of a rolling road stood tall behind him. Between the LED panels, lights burst from the seams, adding a shimmering glow to the dark of the crowd. The whole of the design and backdrop for Sheeran was massive. There was an unmistakable contrast between the man and the production of the show. Sheeran knows how to make a large space seem small, but he also knows how to fill that space in the most spectacular of ways.
As the songwriter played through the best of his catalogue, pulling some new cuts from his ÷ album, but interspersing them with a healthy dose of classic fan favorites, Sheeran showed just how much of a range of sound he can create with just him alone.
On slowed-down tracks such as “Perfect,” Sheeran created the ideal scene and soundtrack for a man in the crowd to propose to his girlfriend. As Sheeran ended the song, congratulating the couple (“Somebody’s getting it tonight”), he dedicated his next track, “Nancy Mulligan,” to them. On “Nancy,” Sheeran beat his guitar, making backing drum beats, and added multiple loops of strums, recreating the Irish band sound of the recorded track on nothing but his own guitar. The result was a massive sound, one that would make many assume Sheeran was simply singing over a prerecorded track.
The songwriter filled nearly two hours with his music, and not a moment was dull. As the night came to an end, Sheeran left us on a high note, returning for a two-song encore in the recently announced redesigned Trail Blazer jersey. As the first notes of “Shape of You” began to echo through the room, the massive scream of the fans returned for one deafening thank you to the one man wonder.