Toronto’s Air Canada Centre, with some 16,000 seats in concert configuration, is like a club show for Ed Sheeran, who sells out the 90,000-capacity Wembley Stadium in London for multiple nights. Put that in perspective. It’s staggering when you think about it: one guy with a guitar and loop pedal has become one of the biggest artists in the world. Point that out to the singer-songwriter (with the loop pedal) at the local pub.
The difference, of course, is he has hit songs, like “Shape of You,” “Photograph,” “Thinking Out Loud,” “Castle on the Hill” and “Galway Girl;” but the 26-year-old Englishman also shows us what’s possible.
Perhaps, more importantly, to old-school music junkies, in this day and age when young people are exposed to singers with no live band and dance troupes; or DJs with laser lights — when sales of guitars are down — here’s a musician that has attained the highest career achievements, solo.
His success has bigger implications. Just like Sheeran was inspired as a kid when his dad took him to see Bob Dylan and Eric Clapton and Paul McCartney, no doubt there are kids in this audience now wanting a guitar, inspired by him.
In Toronto, for his second sold-out night at the Air Canada Centre — and just a few dates into the North American leg of a 180-date world tour that began in Italy in mid-March and concludes next August in Poland — Sheeran unassumingly showed us how.
And for those paying attention, what he does is pretty mesmerizing, watching him create his backing tracks before our eyes, playing, recording, looping and adjusting. His seemingly insatiable thirst for water (reaching often to gulp from a plastic bottle) might also be a bit of a diversionary tactic, as he gets each track right.
The set list was virtually the same as the previous night, starting with “Castle on the Hill,” then “Eraser” — both from his latest album, ÷ (Divide) — before playing his breakthrough track, “The A Team,” from his 2011 debut album, + (Plus), demonstrating early on not just his prowess with a guitar and loop station, but for singing and rapping.
To be sure, this is not a campfire solo acoustic show; there isn’t even a stool in sight. He gets the track then is free to strum, sing, jump on a riser, thump out percussion on the body of the guitar, rapid-fire rap or do nothing at all when he gets the audience to sing back his lyrics for him.
His between-song chat wasn’t particularly memorable. He talked about the energy, how loud the previous night was (as well as in Buenos Aires, Argentina). He asked us to put one arm in the air or to get out our cell phones to light the joint. There were a couple of emotional stories when he talked about his grandparents, including the day he drove to see his sick grandmother and she wasn’t there, before playing the song he wrote for her, “”Supermarket Flowers” (his only change from Friday’s set, replacing Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself,” which he co-wrote).
That was a bit of a drag for the many fans who were there both nights. As a solo artist in the truest sense of the word, Sheeran could easily mix it up, reorder the songs or add in others, as well as change the banter, so that he could become one of those “I saw that concert in that city” performers, like a Springsteen where every show is different and special.
"Castle on the Hill"
"The A Team"
"Don't" / "New Man"
"Feeling Good" / "I See Fire"
"Thinking Out Loud"
"Shape of You"
"You Need Me, I Don’t Need You"