Thursday, June 12, 2014
Last night I was in the audience for Ed Sheeran's taping of Austin City Limits television. Before the set started I posted a photo of the program to Instagram and someone left the comment, "I can't help but like him." That's when I realized, he's a very like-able young man. Ed Sheeran is not only like-able, he's downright charming.
Before his set started I was surprised to see the stage was almost completely bare. No drummer, no keyboards, the only thing on the stage at the start was a loop station on the floor and two mic stands. Since Sheeran's latest single, Sing, is very beat heavy I was expecting a full band. Turns out he is a full band.
Ed Sheeran - Sing video via YouTube
Sheeran started his set with You Need Me, I Don't Need You / My Eyes Are Red, a ten minute medley that serves as a sort of preview for the rest of the set. He banged on the body of his guitar to make a bass beat and continued to add layers to the song creating a backdrop for him to rap over. Don't get it twisted, this wasn't a rap song but it was close enough to make my Mom turn to me to say that it wasn't the sort of music she normally listened to. I didn't catch all the lyrics but My Eyes Are Red is definitely about how he smokes pot and it's no big deal. I don't disagree with this message but it was a bit strange to me considering the audience. Although, in fairness I doubt any of the parents in the crowd caught much of anything Sheeran was singing on this particular number.
One of the many charms of last night's performance was the between song banter. Ed Sheeran, donning a black Austin City Limits T-Shirt acted both as performer and host for the evening. He asked the crowd who was seeing him for the first time, which was the majority of the audience. At that point he proceeded to explain and then demonstrate the loop station at his feet. I grew up in the same region of Maine as Howie Day so I'm already quite familiar but I thought it was wise to show the crowd that he wasn't using a backing track.
As you can see from the photo at the top of this post I had a great vantage point of the front row of the audience last night, which truly elevated the experience. Unlike most tapings I've attended of ACL TV last night's audience was filled with young girls who were absolutely giddy to be in the same room with Ed Sheeran. Watching the looks of pure, unadulterated love on these girl's faces reminded me of when I was less dead inside. These girls sang every lyric to every song and even clutched their hearts during the most meaningful parts. There was a lot of call and response singing throughout the set and these girls were the most willing participants. There was even a boy who must have been about nine years old in the front row. During a song break Sheeran looked toward the boy and said he heard it was the kid's first concert and he asked if he was enjoying it. At another point in the show Sheeran dedicated a song to a girl in the front row. I'm telling y'all he was charming.
Musically the performance straddles that line between Jason Mraz and Blackstreet. The first time I heard Ed Sheeran several years ago I thought to myself, "Oh, he's a ginger Jack Johnson from England." I wasn't too far off-base but since then he has certainly moved closer to 90's pop-R&B. Last night he sang a Nina Simone cover as well as a traditional Irish folk song and he performed both songs using R&B-style vocal runs throughout. His newest record is sure to open him up to a new audience. Like most artists who are slapped with the label Singer-Songwriter he is doing everything he can to break the perception that he's just a coffee shop dude with an acoustic guitar. His performance for ACL TV won't air until October, at which point I suspect his profile will be even higher than it is today. Ed Sheeran may not be my favorite artist in the world but last night he certainly demonstrated to me and roomful of excitable young ladies that he is a star.