The singer-songwriter returned to the stage in Manchester for a four night stint at the Etihad Stadium, as part of the opening leg of his fourth world tour.
Supported by indie-rock musician Dylan and pop singer Maisie Peters, Sheeran played to an estimated 240,000 people over the course of the weekend.
As one of the biggest musicians Britain has ever produced, Sheeran was always going to draw a crowd. But whether it was the post-pandemic excitement, rumoured sightings of Wayne Rooney at the back of the crowd, or simply Sheeran’s own draw, the atmosphere at the Etihad was positively electric.
As he told the crowd early on in his set: “My job tonight is to play as many songs from the albums as you recognise.”
And he certainly delivered. Over the course of a two hour set, Halifax-born Sheeran regaled the crowd with dozens of his most recognisable hits.
For those of us running a little behind on catching up with his latest album, =, there was a merciful mixture of musical eras.
It’s easy to forget just how many hits Sheeran has produced over the last decade, but the singer was clearly revered by the crowd, who joined him in every song, from 2011’s The A Team and Photograph, from his 2014 album X, right the way through to Bad Habits, which soared to the top of the charts last year.
However you feel about Sheeran’s music, you have to admit there’s something truly magical about the sound of 60,000 voices belting out the words to Thinking Out Loud in perfect unison.
For an added twist, there were also a few homages to his other work, with covers of his most notable collaborations, and even a version of Justin Bieber’s Love Yourself, which Sheeran wrote for the Canadian singer in 2015.
I previously saw Ed in concert in 2014, and came away a little underwhelmed. While he was clearly an incredibly talented musician, the performance itself was a little lacking.
“It’s only fair,” I told myself. “You can’t really expect one man to capture a full arena’s attention for an entire evening.”
But it turns out you can. Accompanied by some incredible staging and an enthusiastic crowd, this tour has transformed Sheeran from a small musician on a big stage to a true showman, commanding the attention of the crowd for a solid two hours.
Although I’m sure Sheeran has developed as a performer in the last 8 years, a huge part of the credit for this transformation has to go to the incredible staging.
Sheeran himself performs from a circular stage in the middle of the arena, which variously rises, rotates and lights up throughout the evening.
A large circular screen above the stage, combined with six double-sided monitors spaced around the arena, allow the 60,000-strong crowd to witness every second of Sheeran’s performance.
And what a performance it was. With fireworks, pyrotechnics and coloured smoke cannons, there’s no doubt that the night has cemented itself in the minds of everyone who attended.
Ed Sheeran’s time in Manchester might be over for now, but no doubt that the Afterglow of his performances will last for quite some time.