Ed Sheeran’s new single, 'Eyes Closed', is a lament for a close friend who died suddenly last year. He played it at 3Arena and, though swearing he wouldn’t cry as had when he first performed the song a few months ago, seemed on the brink of tearing up.
But this weepy moment was an anomaly during a rollicking evening that toasted Sheeran’s decade-plus as the superstar next door. Taking time out from an ongoing stadium tour that he kicked off in Dublin and Cork– it reaches America this summer – he explained that he wanted to look beyond the hits and dust-down material from his catalogue. Don’t worry, he added, there would be hits too. With ticket prices breaching €100 he didn’t dare leave them out.
Only an artist at Sheeran's level could play a 14,000-capacity venue and approach it as an intimate night for hardcore fans. Yet that was the effect he achieved as he hopscotched across his catalogue.
There were obscurities and overlooked favourites. Explaining he was a “massive nerd” and Tolkien buff, he reprised 'I See Fire', the theme tune he wrote for one of Peter Jackson’s Hobbit movies.
Sheeran also brought us back to the night he moved to London dreaming of a career in music with 'The City'. Written when he was still a teenager, it showed that even starting out he had all the attributes that would make him a megastar. The number was heartfelt but catchy, wispy but with a hardcore pop centre.
The concert came ahead of the May release of his fifth official studio album “-“ (Subtract). It’s his sad indie record, with production by The National’s Aaron Dessner and, Sheeran has revealed, lyrics that chronicle recent challenges. These include his wife’s cancer diagnosis and the copyright trial over claims he and songwriting partner Johnny McDaid had plagiarised 'Shape Of You' (Sheeran won the case).
He didn’t skimp on the smashes. 'Shivers' had cold-funk energy while Perfect was Sheeran at his most commercial.
That song was squeezed in between 'Eyes Closed' and the old traditional lament 'The Parting Glass'. For that number, he tilted his head and sang towards the heavens. It was a reminder that, if the gig was a celebration it was also, at a certain level an act of bearing witness to a lost friend.