How astonishing that Ed Sheeran, a scruffy bloke in a hoodie, can sell out four nights at Dublin’s recently rebranded 3Arena.
With a hangdog slouch and thatch of red hair, he has the bearing of a mildly unsuccessful busker lost on the way to Grafton Street. Seeing him alone on stage, every word and gesture attended by swooning shrieks from the overwhelmingly female attendance, is surreal.What is the secret sauce in his songs?
Though Sheeran isn’t beyond applying an overcoat of pop gloop, even the throwaway moments are shot through with observational honesty. Only 23, the Englishman (of Irish lineage) has devoted the best part of a decade to breaking into the record industry, spending years sleeping on couches and crashing with friends as required.
This has imbued his repertoire with a striking lack of sentimentality — instead, he movingly conjures early adulthood heartache and confusion, sensibilities that doubtless strike a chord with his fresh-faced fanbase.
On the first of his quartet of evenings in Dublin, the production was bare-boned. It was just Sheeran, a middling light show and lots of polite angst (you suspect he’s the sort to seek solace in a nice cup of tea rather than a bottle of whiskey).
The biggest concession to show-business was his retro Ireland soccer jersey: this emphasised his “boy next door” quality, as did the rather ho-hum tenor of the banter between tracks ( “Ireland you are wonderful etc”).
By the standards of mainstream pop, the actual music is accomplished, however. Yes, you were faintly irritated by Sheeran’s adherence to the vogue among troubadours to “beat-box” mid-song. And there was occasionally a whiff of formula, quavering openings inevitably climaxing in a wig-out of chords and mannered shrieks.
Still, tunes such as ‘You Don’t Need Me (I Don’t Need You)’ and ‘The A-Team’ (both rolled out during the encore) are soaked in emotion and adroitly put together — anthems of loss and confusion that, by every indication, speak to a great swathe of young people beginning to make their way in the world and unsure where to turn. Sheeran is a very “ordinary” sort of superstar but his talent blazes fiercely nonetheless.
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