OMAHA -- Ed Sheeran settled in with his acoustic guitar Tuesday, asking the friends gathered around him to sing along and blow out their voices by the end of the night.
That would be 15,000 of his friends who packed the CenturyLink Center and sing they did, joining Sheeran on nearly every song of the 90-minute show and fully taking over on his Grammy winner, “Thinking of You.”
That clearly pleased Sheeran, who repeatedly encouraged the crowd to forget being embarrassed, not worry about singing in tune and just sing along to his acoustic folk-pop.
The talk came between songs from the affable, engaging Sheeran, who opener James Blunt rightfully called the biggest solo male star in the world.
And he was truly solo, occupying the stage and creating all of the sounds himself, using a loop board.
First pounding on the guitar to create a percussive bass sound (it got some serious compression and processing somewhere), Sheeran would play a chord progression or riff, loop it, then build up the song to where ever he needed it.
On “Bloodstream” Sheeran had the beat cranked up and got the audience members to throw their arms up and down ala a hip-hop show while ballads like the sweet “Hearts Don’t Break Around Here,” from Sheeran’s latest album “+” were mostly me and my guitar stuff.
While a one-man-band approach works well enough in small venues, it has to be a real challenge in an arena, not just to keep the audience’s attention aurally but visually.
Sheeran solves that problem spectacularly, first with the loops that gives him a fuller, more complex sound that helps eclipse the singer-songwriter dullness. Then he added stunningly effective staging.
The stage itself, called a chalice by its creator, puts curved video screens behind and above Sheeran, who spent most of the night behind a microphone at center stage, stomping on his loop board.
The boards displayed flowing, eye catching shots of Sheeran, photographs, videos and graphics including, appropriately, the words “SING” and “LOUDER” during “Sing,” which closed the main portion of the show.
Before that, Sheeran had played everything the crowd wanted to hear -- from the opening “Castle on the HIll” (for my money the best song on “+”) through his first Song of the Year nominee “The A Team,” an exuberant “Galway Girl” and a gorgeous take on “Photograph.”
Sheeran is as down to earth as a pop star can get. Monday night, he caught a couple movies at Ak-Sar-Ben Cinema, sans anything resembling an entourage. Tuesday, he came out dressed in a flannel shirt over a black t-shirt, with black jeans -- seemingly just another guy out to do his job.
That job was singing his songs to his friends. And he did it very, very well.