Who needs a band these days when you have a loop pedal? Not Ed Sheeran, apparently. Playing to a crowd that spanned generations and genders but skewed heavily toward young women and girls, the English singer-songwriter made it clear at his sold-out Wednesday-night concert at the American Airlines Arena that he's the world's biggest one-man band.
Sheeran largely rejected high-budget, over-the-top pop theatrics in favor of a glorified pub act, and that's not a knock at his performance. In just over an hour-and-a-half, he sang, beatboxed, and even rapped as he jumped on amps and ran around the stage like a teenager fronting his first screamo band. You could find dozens of beatboxing solo singer-songwriters like Sheeran on any given night of bar-hopping in most major cities, but his penchant for dressing his acoustic jams up with radio-ready hooks has set him apart from the rest of his lot. He's also unbelievably charismatic and has probably charmed his way out of trouble on more than a few occasions.
He opened with "Castle on the Hill," from his latest and most successful album, ÷ (pronounced divide), to glass-shattering screams from the audience. "I'm going to let you in on a little secret. We've been measuring how loud the crowds are," he said. Argentina was the longtime record-holder before Atlanta beat the decibel count, but he said he thought from the reaction to the first song that Miami might be louder still.
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It's often been said that successful performers know how to make a pub or dive bar feel like an arena, and an arena feel like a pub or dive bar. Sheeran has taken this advice to heart, granting the crowd a level of intimacy sometimes missing even from theater shows. Early on in the set, he spotted a baby in the second row and asked the parents his name and age. "Is it his first concert?" Sheeran asked, before dedicating his next song "Dive" to baby Cooper.
His biggest hits, such as "Photograph," "The A Team," and "Sing," were consistently the best received, though many deeper cuts were met with similar enthusiasm. "Bloodstream," from his album x (pronounced multiply), was a highlight. Sheeran built a wall of sound by layering tracks on his loop pedal as he strummed and aggressively slapped his guitar strings. Before playing "Barcelona," he encouraged the crowd to "be as weird as you want tonight. You're not going to see these people again," he joked, saying he too gets self-conscious about his surroundings when he's in the concert audience.
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Sheeran switched to an electric guitar for his wedding waltz "Thinking Out Loud," but the fanciest setup he had all night was a keyboard that was brought onstage to cue the beat for the Pharrell collaboration "Sing." A roadie whisked it offstage as soon as the song was over.
Sheeran walked off briefly after the first set, apparently rejecting the traditional extended audience applause for an encore as more unnecessary concert theatrics. He emerged wearing a Miami Heat jersey and sang his latest smash hit, "Shape of You," before closing with what felt like a ten-minute version of "You Need Me, I Don't Need You."
It's known from his candid lyrics that Ed Sheeran has done his fair share of partying around the world, and Miami was more than happy to indulge him in another wild night. He might not be the most poignant songwriter out there, but if you can start an arena party that rowdy with an acoustic guitar in 2017, that's remarkable enough.