It’s not often the upper deck can hear a performer singing without a microphone before a near-capacity crowd at Madison Square Garden. But such is the wonder of Ed Sheeran. On the evening of Oct. 29, the teen-approved singer-songwriter played the first of three gigs to the newly-renovated MSG that captured his remarkably singular identity — the acoustic solo act who handles arena shows all by himself.
Of course touring as the opener for Taylor Swift on her recent Red Tour ought to have readied Sheeran for the big time. But the way Sheeran can command such a massive audience — all by himself onstage — is remarkable, regardless of how one receives his blissfully adolescent songcraft. For the record, he only sung without the aid of a microphone for only a few seconds, but he was heard loud and clear after one of several pleads for silence during a “quiet song,” to which the arena of nearly 20 thousand capacity largely complied.
During his final “quiet song,” a cover of the traditional Irish folk song “The Parting Glass,” an audience member finally broke the holy silence, shouting “Have my children!” to which laughter spread throughout the arena. Sheeran paused and regrouped, only to seconds later be interrupted by a much more profane comment of the same nature. Sheeran’s response: “I bet she came here with her dad, too. That’s kind of awkward.” For an artist who plays such innocuous music to such an innocuous audience (the edgiest he’ll get is singing about often being drunk) that sort of self-awareness can go a long way.
Attending the first of three Sheeran shows planned for Madison Square Garden (there’s a sold out show Nov. 1 and a nearly sold out one Nov. 7), one can wrap his head around how much the redheaded singer’s legend has grown and how much he appeals to the under-18 set. It’s funny to think the British singer’s team once struggled to break him to an American audience.
To their credit, the crowd gave a warm welcome to an opener whose biggest hits may have predated their music purchasing years. An acoustic incarnation of Snow Patrol felt the love as the surprise opener, and the screeches that greeted the opening notes of set closer “Chasing Cars” reached a level of Sheeran-like intensity.
Watch Ed Sheeran perform a new song for the first time at last night’s show:
For the 22-year old headliner, his loudest cry came when he announced he’d be playing a new song towards the end of his set. Sheeran explained the new track, which may well be named “So In Love” (though no name was given), was written following this year’s Grammy Awards, when lots of people were “talking shit.” The result, played live for the first time, was a cozy, kind-hearted number much in line with his “+” fare, about a girl with “blue in her eyes” and with a spellbinding middle 8.
Aside from being joined onstage with Snow Patrol for a performance of their 2011 song “New York,” Sheeran commanded the stage by himself all night, using his loop pedal to replay the sounds made by his voice and tiny acoustic guitar, effectively erasing the need for a backing band. Playing largely the same routine he’d been performing since the Red Tour (albeit with more songs), Sheeran announced the MSG run would be the last time he’d play the set, presumably waiting to reemerge with a new routine based around his forthcoming album, which he announced he’d been recording with Snow Patrol pianist Jonny Quinn.
When Sheeran does return some questions will be answered. Will he stay solo, perhaps someday taking the lone man onstage act to stadiums? Will he get even bigger, becoming the sort of artist who produces top ten Hot 100 hits? Was he ever really dating Taylor Swift? (Well, the answer to that is “no”). So far, Sheeran’s victory lap of MSG shows has proved what an unlikely phenomenon he’s become.
Here’s the set list from Ed Sheeran’s Madison Square Garden performance:
Give Me Love
Wayfaring Stranger (American folk song cover)
Be My Husband (Nina Simone cover)
New York (Snow Patrol cover with Snow Patrol)
Untitled new song
Wake Me Up
You Need Me, I Don’t Need You (included brief cover of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop”)
The Parting Glass (Irish folk song cover)
The A Team