Monday, 13 July 2015

Ed Sheeran - Wembley Stadium, 12/07/15

When it was announced that Ed Sheeran would be playing three dates in a row at Wembley Stadium, it was obvious it was going to be the biggest moment of his career to date, and I was so excited to finally see him again - especially at this level. The first time I saw him was back in 2010 when he opened for Example in Swindon, playing to a crowd of at most a couple of hundred people. I was blown away by the smiley ginger dude who could play acoustic guitar flawlessly and rap faster than anyone I'd heard before, and I remember thinking I was witnessing something really special occurring. Now, just five years later, he's selling out the largest stadium in UK three days in a row, and I think that is bloody mind-blowing. 

But before the man of the evening, I witnessed two spectacular support acts, the first of which was Brighton man Passenger (who introduced himself as Michael Passenger, but is actually Michael David Rosenberg). His entrance was coolly understated, walking out with his guitar and shouting "Hello Wembley!" before stating how he "never thought [he'd] be saying that".
Starting off with 'Fairytales and Firesides' and following it up with 'The Sound of Silence', I was instantly grabbed by how beautiful Michael's voice was in a live environment. I'd been interested by his vocal tone before - it's very unique and has a transcendent tone that you feel in your very core - and it's much more accentuated in real life. I found that his vocal was a little bit echoey, probably due to the size of Wembley Stadium, but that actually enhanced the experience - with the deep lyrics and the power in his voice it sent shivers up and down my spine repeatedly. The violent strumming of the guitar left a sensation of drums pounding in your chest, and Michael definitely took advantage of his moment to shine and performed with a furious passion that blew me away. It's impressive seeing one man and a guitar headlining Wembley Stadium, but it might be even more impressive seeing one man and a guitar open Wembley Stadium - this can have been nothing but nerve-wracking, but if Michael had any nerves at all he did not let them show.
In a surprising twist, Passenger's support slot was one of the most hilarious I'd ever witnessed, despite the depressing lyrical content laced throughout most of the songs that he performed. He announced to the crowd "as you might have realised by the first song, this half an hour is not going to be the happiest half an hour of your life", but he more than made up for it with his hilarious quips throughout the set. During 'Fairytales and Firesides', he sang the lyric "we're fucked but we say that we're fine" and then swiftly apologised, and while trying to teach people the "la la la" chorus to 'I Hate', stated "I can't actually hear if you're singing or not... But guys, I know what it's like, you're at an Ed Sheeran concert and some weirdo shows up before him, and he's wearing skinny jeans, and he's telling you to sing along, and you probably just want him to fuck off..." which caused laughter and applause from the crowd.
Talking of 'I Hate', it might have been the best song I'd ever heard. Starting off "I hate racist blokes, telling tasteless jokes" I was already completely on board with the lyrical content, made all the more sweeter when he announced "if you don't sing as loud as you can in the chorus, it means you're a racist! Good luck with that...". Continuing on with the theme of things he hates, it mentioned "queuing up for Wembley toilets, especially when you need a shit" (I'm pretty sure everyone could empathise with that, with toilet queues taking around ten minutes each!) and "the Botox, that makes [Hollywood stars] look fucked", about which he shared an anecdote of how awkward it was singing that line in Los Angeles.
'Let Her Go' obviously got the best reception of the entire set. Introducing it "I basically have one famous song, and just so you know it's not from 'Frozen'. A lot of people have been making that mistake, and it's kind of ruining my life", there was no doubt which song it was going to be, and any members of the crowd who hadn't been paying attention so far were instantly drawn in. I think part of the universal appeal of 'Let Her Go' is how easy it is to relate to the lyrics, and with everyone singing the song back at the top of their lungs it was an extremely poignant moment. It was obvious throughout the song how emotional Michael was getting, and at the end of the song he shouted "that was one if the most ridiculous moments of my life, thank you Wembley!". While we'll never know for sure, I thought that the fact that he grabbed a towel and wiped his face straight after the song finished was pretty telling of his emotions - but I'm sure he'd just tell you how sweaty it was up there on that stage.
Before performing his last song, 'Holes', he took a couple of minutes to share the story of how he met Ed Sheeran - they had been performed a show together in a pub in Cambridge to about thirty-five people. It was a very touching moment, both to see how successful Passenger has become and, obviously, Ed too. He might have struggled at the start, but Passenger's dreams are coming true, and I'm really excited to listen to more of his music and to watch where he goes from here. He very nearly stole the show completely, and I think he would have if the calibre of the rest of the bill hadn't been so high.

Fairytales and Firesides
The Sound of Silence (Simon and Garfunkel cover)
I Hate
Let Her Go

Main support, OneRepublic, were the act that I was most excited to see at this show - even more so than Ed himself. I've been listening to them avidly since the release of 'Stop and Stare' back in 2007, but I haven't had the luck to see them before now, so I had my hopes very, very high.
At first listen I was a little bit apprehensive; starting off with 'Secrets' was a risk that I don't think completely paid off. The orchestral sound was brilliant in the live environment, but Ryan Tedder's vocal just didn't seem to be able to pull off what it could do on the studio version of that song. He sounded quite flat, and I was worried that the rest of the set wasn't going to go well - despite the energetic bouncing all around the stage, it just didn't feel like a strong performance.
That feeling continued through 'All The Right Moves'. However, as soon as Ryan took a break to perform 'Stop and Stare' on the piano, he seemed to be able to ground himself and relax completely, and the set from there on out was absolutely phenomenal. The vocal riffs he performed at the end of 'Stop and Stare' were awe-inducing; I'd never heard any vocalist do any of the tricks he did live, so my jaw dropped into my lap.
The shock just continued - the piano intro he performed before 'Apologize' was one of the most breathtaking things I'd ever experienced, and the ferocity with which he played showed off his fiery passion perfectly. Again, the echo on the microphone sent shivers down my spine - it wasn't at all noticeable throughout the rest of their set, with the drumming and electric guitars, but on this pared back and toned down song the vocal was front and centre. Choosing to mash up 'Apologize' with Sam Smith's 'Stay With Me' was a genius move that also blew me away, and by the screams echoing around the stadium it wasn't just me that was impressed by them making that decision. It certainly paid off, with it becoming such a memorable moment that I'm sure will stick in people's heads for a very long time to come.
Introducing 'The Good Life', Ryan told us that they actually wrote the song for the UK, as "our ode to you guys" even though it never got released over here, so it was very poignant that they ended up performing it in a place like Wembley Stadium (and performing it here twice, as they also supported Ed on the first night of his three night residency). Similarly to Passenger, Ryan changed one of the lyrics in the song to be "my friends in Wembley, they all know" which was a touching tribute.
One of the most unusual moments in the set was definitely the guitar solo from Zach Filkins. I've never before heard a Spanish guitar solo in this kind of setting, and the mariachi sound definitely got the crowd moving. Similarly to Ryan's piano solo, you could definitely see his passion, and the building up of the sound that he did was a genius move in front of a crowd of Ed Sheeran fans - he used a lot of the same techniques, but because it was with the Spanish guitar sound it was still very unique to him. Walking back onstage after Zach's solo, Ryan announced "that sucked, do something cool!" and after Zach played an extended intro the band threw themselves into 'Counting Stars', their first ever UK number one. Because of this fact it was definitely their most well-received song, and that was helped by Ryan bounding up and down the stage, throwing his tambourine effortlessly from hand to hand and jumping on and off of the drum platform repeatedly. He flung himself off of the stage and into the pit for the end of the song, sprinting up and down the front of the crowd, and it was great to see him getting down and personal with the fans.
'Love Runs Out' also had a brilliantly played extended piano intro, and closing song 'If I Lose Myself' definitely cemented the fact that OneRepublic's newer songs are the more fun ones - while the middle of the set seemed rather serious and sombre, the end of the set was nothing but fun. With the arrival of many, many drums, the band did a brilliant choreographed group drumming session, and the sound was indescribable - if you've ever seen Imagine Dragon's perform live, you'll understand what I mean when I say it was reminiscent of their extended drumming section in the middle of 'Radioactive'. I'd never realised how multi-talented this entire band was, but damn it was impressive.
The only thing that disappointed me about this set was that it was so short - I would have happily seen another ten or fifteen songs by OneRepublic, because they are a highly enthralling band. While I haven't seen them before, I am definitely going to see them again - you can count on it.

All The Right Moves
Stop and Stare
Apologise/Stay With Me
The Good Life
Counting Stars
Love Runs Out
If I Lose Myself

After having two astounding opening acts, you'd think it would be hard for Ed Sheeran to beat them - but surprise, surprise, he blew them out of the water.
With the most un-egotistical entrance ever, Ed had a series of home videos playing across the screen introducing his career this far; clips from when he was a child, and the video of him busking that spawned the inspirational comparison images that have flooded social media. After the videos played, Ed walked out onto the stage with his guitar, waving at fans, before starting 'I'm A Mess' without even announcing his arrival. This did mean that there were quite a few panicked fans flooding back into the arena after going for food or toilet breaks, but it was brilliant to see that even after selling however many millions of albums and selling out Wembley three days in a row, Ed still wants the focus to be on his music. When he did introduce himself, he did it plainly: "My name is Ed, and my job for the next few hours is to entertain you.".
I loved the story he told us about the "first ever complaint" he received at one of his concerts the other day - his Canadian fans demanded their money back, because they were convinced he had been using backing tracks because of the sound with his loop pedal and the quality of his voice. You can tell your in for a good show when the artist can sound like they're recorded, even when they're live, and as Ed announced to the crowd, "everything you hear tonight is completely live", so even on a huge stage like this he needs nothing to hide behind.
Because he's only on his second album, the set was rather evenly split between old and new material, which was brilliant for me as a much bigger fan of '+'. 'Lego House' was performed beautifully, and with the ten large screens surrounding him featuring clips of lego characters playing it made it all the more adorable.
It was brilliant that the screens had graphics and stories played out across them - too many times people get lazy with the production and just have videos of themselves splattered across them, but that was not the case with Ed's show. During 'Drunk', psychedelic green swirled itself everywhere, while during 'Take It Back' the negative effect making his face look like a black hole, combined with harsh red lighting, gave a terrifying effect (and definitely accentuated the ginger hair). My favourite was probably during 'One' and 'Photograph', which Ed flawlessly segued together - the screen showed a sketched man and a woman and played out their love story during 'One', then during 'Photograph' paintings of Ed and various females drew themselves across the screen before erasing themselves - it was artistically magnificent.
You'd be surprised how attention grabbing one man and his guitar could be, but there were times during the evening when I felt my mind wandering - it was the only sign that maybe, just maybe, this show was a bit too premature. "No!" I hear you cry. "No, it was not premature - it sold out!". And I know it sold out, and I know he's an amazing artist, but maybe Wembley should be the venue to perform at after your third or even fourth album - with just two under the belt it meant that some of the song choices seemed like they could have been filler. I still enjoyed all of them, don't get me wrong. 'Take It Back' might have seemed as though it was dragging a little bit (even though seeing Ed rapping and guitarless was a massive surprise) - but because of the mash up with 'Superstitious' and 'Ain't No Sunshine' he quickly got it back on track - and 'One' might have been a bit too slow for a set like this - but it's beautiful, so I can forgive it, but I do wonder if this was a rushed decision. Where will Ed go next? Once you've performed at Wembley there is no going back, and it seems as though he's peaked far too early.
Despite these worries, I still loved the set. I've been hooked on 'Bloodstream' since seeing his performance at the BRITs, and it was just as brilliant as I'd expected live - the crowd all bouncing their hands on the kick in for the chorus was a brilliant sight from where I was back in the seating section, just a flood of movement from the back of the standing section all the way through to the barrier. 'Tenerife Sea' sounded like a combination of Kelly Clarkson's 'Breakaway' and Ed Sheeran's own 'Give Me Love', and it was funny to see the phone lights out in force this early in the evening; as Wembley is a stadium with an open roof, it was still natural daylight inside, so you could hardly see them twinkling away.
My personal favourite moment is torn between the mash up of 'Don't', 'Loyal', 'No Diggity' and 'Nina', or 'Give Me Love'. 'Don't' and 'Nina' are my two favourite songs off of the 'X' album, so hearing them both cleverly mixed together and combined with two other songs was a brilliant moment for me. However, 'Give Me Love' is one of my all time favourite Ed Sheeran songs, so hearing that live for the first time definitely affected me emotionally - it's such a simple song, but all the more beautiful for that.
There was nothing I could fault in this set, other than the problems that arose from my own short attention span and lack of knowledge of his more recent songs. Ed's voice was flawless on every song, and the energy he put into the performances was mind-blowing. Due to an error with his loop pedal, the encore comprised of 'You Need Me, I Don't Need You' twice, and by the end of the second rendition he was completely breathless due to how much of himself he'd poured into the performance. it was definitely a credit to Ed that he didn't choose to just cut the song from the set - when the loop pedal messed up he shouted out "stop it, I'll have to start it again", briefly performed 'The Parting Glass' and then started from the beginning again, building the sound up brilliantly. You'd think it could get boring, hearing the same song twice, but with the frenetic energy that Ed owned the stage with it was absolutely absorbing, even if he was repeating himself.
His set list was beautifully crafted, too. I'd been looking up his sets from the Friday and the Saturday night and wasn't completely blown away by either of them, but when his final night included both 'Give Me Love' and 'Small Bump' (which he stated he "didn't think would go down well in a stadium") I was the happiest I could have been. I understand that Ed's success has expanded monumentally since the release of 'X', but I think the understated and reigned in songs on '+' have a certain charm about them. A perfect example of that was the mash up of 'Kiss Me' and 'Thinking Out Loud'; 'Kiss Me' is one of my favourite songs, but 'Thinking Out Loud' is the only Ed Sheeran song that I've ever disliked, no matter how similar they seem to be.
Before playing 'The A Team', Ed addressed the fact that people had asked him if it was his dream to play Wembley, and he soberly replied "my dream is to play Shepherd's Bush Empire, this is way way above what I ever dreamed," before going on to say "the reason why this gig is here is because of you guys [...] an artist is nothing without the people who listen to his music and love it," which was the biggest thank you he could have given. 'The A Team' had everyone with their lights out again, and as the evening had progressed and the sun had gone down at this point it really was an indescribable moment.
One of the things that makes Ed Sheeran stand out is his ability to write songs that make you want to have fun, and to write songs that make you want to cry. This set really is a mixed bag; with covers and mash ups and old songs and new songs, it really was the pinnacle of Ed Sheeran's career, so finishing with what was his first UK number one - 'Sing' - was a no brainer. After the show the 'oh oh oh' lyric was beamed across Wembley's side, and fans flooding home in all directions were still singing the refrain, so it was definitely the best choice to stick in people's heads and have them thinking about the concert for a while yet.
This was the only one of the three Wembley performances not getting recorded, and Ed seemed relaxed and ecstatic up on the stage all by himself. He most definitely didn't let it phase him, and even stated in the middle that "it's been so much fun, and tomorrow I don't get to do it again which is a shame.".  But with the knowledge that the DVD is on its way, it'll be interesting to see this show again (especially Friday's coverage, with the surprise guest appearance from Elton John!) and I am very excited to see what Mr Sheeran brews up on album number three, whenever we might be getting that. This was a career defining decision, I just hope his trajectory continues and he hasn't peaked too soon...

I'm A Mess
Lego House
Take It Back/Superstitious/Ain't No Sunshine
Tenerife Sea
Don't/Loyal/No Diggity/Nina
Feeling Good/I See Fire
Small Bump
Give Me Love
I Was Made To Love Her (Stevie Wonder cover)
Kiss Me/Thinking Out Loud
The A Team
You Need Me, I Don't Need You
The Parting Glass
You Need Me, I Don't Need You (take 2)

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