November 13, 2018

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Solo Sheeran at top of his game

Chart-topping Brit charms sold out crowd with tried-and-true pop offerings

Ed Sheeran charms sold out crowd
Photos by: Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2017 (478 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For fans of white British guys who sing sappy songs and play the guitar, Bell MTS Place was the place to be Saturday night with a bill starring current chart-topping troubadour Ed Sheeran, with former chart-topping troubadour James Blunt as an opening act.

As was pointed out in the Free Press’s preview piece for this concert, Sheeran, 26, is on quite the upward swing: his newest album, ÷, has reached No.1 on the iTunes charts in 102 countries and the first three singles — Castle On the Hill, Shape of You and Galway Girl — all cracked the Top 10 on charts around the world.

It was only fitting he began with one of those hits; as he flopped on stage with just his guitar and a set of loop pedals in front of him, he bashed out the opening riff of Castle On the Hill. And instant sing-along ensued and continued for much of the night.

“It’s been two years since I’ve been here and it’s a genuine pleasure to be back... everyone is so friendly here!” said Sheeran, before requesting everyone turn on their phone lights and sing along to A-Team, a hit from his first record, +.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/7/2017 (478 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

For fans of white British guys who sing sappy songs and play the guitar, Bell MTS Place was the place to be Saturday night with a bill starring current chart-topping troubadour Ed Sheeran, with former chart-topping troubadour James Blunt as an opening act.

As was pointed out in the Free Press’s preview piece for this concert, Sheeran, 26, is on quite the upward swing: his newest album, ÷, has reached No.1 on the iTunes charts in 102 countries and the first three singles — Castle On the Hill, Shape of You and Galway Girl — all cracked the Top 10 on charts around the world.

It was only fitting he began with one of those hits; as he flopped on stage with just his guitar and a set of loop pedals in front of him, he bashed out the opening riff of Castle On the Hill. And instant sing-along ensued and continued for much of the night.

"It’s been two years since I’ve been here and it’s a genuine pleasure to be back... everyone is so friendly here!" said Sheeran, before requesting everyone turn on their phone lights and sing along to A-Team, a hit from his first record, +.

Tackling an arena show completely alone on stage is not new for Sheeran, but always seems like a questionable decision. He’s a wonderful live vocalist, there’s no doubt about that, and he’s got his loop-pedal antics down to a fine art, but there’s only so long you can watch one guy stand on stage and play the guitar, no matter how good he is. Kudos go out to his stage design team who created tower of video screens that resembled a spaceship in shape (rounded top with a rectangular base), which projected live footage of Sheeran among other, more artistic images. That constant visual stimulation amped up Sheeran’s low-key performance style.

The fact there isn’t much variety in his songs doesn’t help ease the occasional feeling of tedium — he’s got the ballads, such as the swoon-worthy Dive from his new record, and then he’s got the more hip-hop infused tracks, in which he sing-raps, such as Eraser and New Man. A few songs fall on the outskirts of those two categories, but most of them can be labelled as one or the other.

He can’t be faulted for finding a formula that works so well for him, and he can’t be faulted for writing solid pop songs and executing them in a way that had a sold-out crowd at Bell MTS Place melted into a pile of mush from the moment he stepped on stage and flashed his first cheeky grin under his mop of ginger hair.

And, more importantly, there’s no fault to be found in the technical aspect of his performance, either; he produced album-quality vocals all night and aggressively and deftly strummed the heck out of his guitar, filling the gaps between songs with the kind of banter you’d expect from Ed Sheeran — a little goofy, very casual and almost painfully endearing.

After a zippy 80-minute main set that ended with the most popular song used for wedding first dances the world over, Thinking Out Loud, and the more upbeat track, Sing, Sheeran returned (in a Winnipeg Jets shirt, no less) for a two-song encore comprised of Shape of You and You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.

Blunt preceded Sheeran with a 40-minute set full of charming banter and, you guessed it, guitar-driven pop-rock songs, except he had a four-man band backing him up. He bravely started off with a quintet of tracks from his new record, The Afterlove, all of which garnered a largely positive reaction from the sold-out crowd. Unsurprisingly, though, it was You’re Beautiful, Blunt’s biggest hit, that was the obvious highlight for most.

"This is the song most of you were conceived to," he laughed before twinkling out the familiar opening chords of the song.

Because a lot of Blunt’s songs can be described as miserable (a word he himself used on stage), the assumption would be he is a downer of a performer, but he was quite the opposite on stage; he’s funny, energetic and fully aware of his own reputation, which makes it way easier to pick up what he’s putting down. In addition, his vocals, while still carrying that nasally tone he’s famous for, were perfectly on point.

erin.lebar@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @NireRabel

Erin Lebar

Erin Lebar
Multimedia producer

Erin Lebar is a multimedia producer who spends most of her time writing music- and culture-related stories for the Arts & Life section. She also co-hosts the Winnipeg Free Press's weekly pop-culture podcast, Bury the Lede.

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