Ed Sheeran delivers a cracking, memorable, unique gig to an eager Auckland audience. Sheer perfection – despite the technical problems.
Mexican wave after wave rolled around a packed Eden Park as Ed Sheeran’s team spent half an hour trying to fix his famous loop pedal to allow him to finish a stellar gig in the way he’d planned. Sadly, the tech goblins just weren’t having any of it, but Sheeran overcame the problems in the best way possible – treating his fans to a pared back presentation of some of his biggest hits accompanied only by his acoustic guitar – and thousands of backing singers. It was a glimpse of how he writes, rehearses and harked back to his early days, busking on the streets of London before hitting the big time.
The evening started well. The Auckland sun was out for once this summer and there was a relaxed, easy vibe as people arrived at the stadium. Once inside, the stage set up was truly breathtaking – easily the most dynamic and impressive ever to be installed at Eden Park. In the round, with a pneumatic stage featuring different levels, rotating areas, a massive cinematic drum and outposts topped with huge plectrums, each bearing electronic displays. Famously mates with Sir Elton John, Sheeran’s set up at Eden Park promised to make up for everything that was washed out a couple of weeks ago – and then some. He proved to be every inch an equal in showmanship, with an almost equal back catalogue of more contemporary hits.
The support acts were well received, although the audience for country star Kaylee Bell was a little sparse – a shame, as both her songs and performance were great.
Attendance for Maisie Peters was better, possibly in response to her promotion on “The Project” the previous day, or due to her rapidly growing fan base. She was cute in a black T-shirt, mini skirt and boots, appealing to the younger elements of a widely diverse audience demographic. Families, teens, young couples, middle-aged women and groups of millennials – it appears that Ed’s appeal traverses all ages. Peters’ 3 piece band – featuring an excellent guitarist and driving drums in the stand out “Not Another Rockstar”- backed her admirably and Maisie demonstrated her own prowess on guitar when she brought the tempo down for a reflective, angst-ridden number.
The crowd dispersed for food and comfort breaks ahead of the main man, but were helpfully rushed back to their seats when a 10 minute countdown appeared on the giant cylindrical screen.
Excitement escalated as the crowd roared along to the final 10 seconds, before the drum lifted to reveal Sheeran alone on stage, flanked by a five piece band (guitars, bass, drums and keyboard) each stationed on the outlying podia. Peters had obviously been given Sheeran’s dress code, as he was also in black – jeans and a T-shirt featuring multi-coloured AUCKLAND wording both front and back. It can’t have been a designed to remind of where he was, as he was eager to share his on-going love affair with NZ in anecdotes to the audience, revealing that he’d been here for 3 weeks and would be sad to be going home in a couple of days’ time. He acknowledged Eden Park as a “wonderful stadium” and on this occasion it was – well set up, well-staffed and coping well with the capacity crowd (until the inevitable bus chaos after the gig – but what’s new there?).
Sheeran and the band had a blistering start with “Tides”, getting the crowd onto their feet before really amping it up with “Blow” – an opportunity to unleash the full rock-star fantasy with fireworks, flames and plenty of striding around the rotating stage with axe in hand. After dismissing the band back to the nether regions of the elevated stage, Ed switched to solo mode, helpfully instructing fans on how the loop pedal works before using it for a set of songs performed individually. Starting with “I’m A Mess” from his second album, he went on to perform “Shivers”, “The A Team” and “Castle on the Hill”, with blazing guitar work over a layered loop base. The set list was brilliantly crafted and the changes of pace maintained energy and interest across a long evening.
But at this point, six songs in, both Sheeran and the crowd were only just getting started. He didn’t really need to check “You guys still having fun?” as it was evident from the appreciation shown after every oh-so-familiar track, as well as through the singalongs and gasps at the ever-changing, amazing displays and imaginative visuals. The painful, bitter lyrics of “Don’t” were offset by the fun responses as it morphed into “No Diggity”, before the tempo switched again for an evocative, acapella start to “I See Fire”. Sheeran told the story of the song – how he’d been called in Ibiza and asked to get to Aotearoa within 24 hours for a mystery project – again referring to his love for the country and the opportunities he’d been given here, not only by Sir Peter Jackson. He asked the crowd to sing along but they didn’t need asking. The vocal support was enthusiastic and unwavering. The mood continued with “Visiting Hours”, this time accompanied by his Musical Director on piano – a poignant tribute to Sheeran’s former manager and promoter.
The band returned to support Sheeran for a medley of the collaborative hits, including “Beautiful People” and “I Don’t Care”.
At this point the revolving stage was rather like a conveyor belt or a sushi train, serving up hit after hit as Sheeran rotated, with no sign of dizziness. Instead, he showed great energy bounding around to “Overpass Graffiti”. Sheeran “borrowed” Tina from Maisie Peters’ band for “Galway Girl” explaining that whilst keyboard player for Peters, she’s actually a multi-instrumentalist an accomplished fiddle player. Tina certainly showed her skill on the track, strutting around the revolving stage with her fiddle to huge appreciation.
If you like to get the stories behind the songs, Ed’s your man.
He spoke of his visit to Pokemon HQ which led to him writing “Celestial”, a song for their latest game. An hour in, the audience were still on their feet, having a great time, as hit after hit were blasted out. Sheeran commented that “this is the time of the gig when the real singalongs start” and to prove him right, the crowd amped up their vocal support for a rapid-fire number of familiar songs from Sheeran’s now extensive catalogue, starting with “Thinking Out Loud”. He spoke of how he tried to take a year off but ended up writing songs for other people, illustrating this with a rendition of “Love Yourself” – a hit for Justin Bieber, whom NZ audiences missed out with his cancelled gigs. Much fun was had with the audience substituting their voices for the trumpet solo, before lustily singing along (appropriately enough) to “Sing”, featuring Sheeran’s rapid-fire rap.
The romance of “Photograph” and “Perfect” were acknowledged through a commentary by Sheeran about how people tell him constantly of how much his songs mean to them, accompanying significant memories and “framing moments in their lives”. He opined that “songs are super important”, humbly admitted that he “doesn’t take it for granted”, and inferred a “death of the author” stance in commenting that the songs don’t really belong to him – they form parts of people’s narratives and personal stories. Over 9 million fans saw Sheeran on his last tour, so it’s interesting to speculate on their individual interpretations and meanings.
The next song, “Bloodstream”, is where the problems started.
Halfway through, the loop went horribly out of sync and a bit of feedback was evident. Sheeran stopped, told the audience to “pretend it didn’t happen”, and tried again – twice. He disappeared below the stage, looking upset, which is when the Mexican waves started. Sheeran came back, thanked the audience profusely for their understanding and patience, explaining that it was a loop pedal feedback problem which meant that the performance couldn’t proceed as planned.
Many performers would have left it there, but to his immense credit Sheeran was committed to ploughing on, saying that “We’re going to finish the gig in a special way” and would continue with a stripped-back acoustic set. He went on for a further 30 minutes solo, playing Celtic cover “The Parting Glass”, “Afterglow”, “Lego House” and “Bad Habits”, which came with the fire plumes which would admittedly have been more in keeping with the full band performance, rather than a solitary singer. Nobody seemed to mind – in fact, it was a privilege to see how Ed was able to pivot and just run out songs which were not part of the planned setlist. “Give Me Love” was performed perfectly, despite being “a song I haven’t played for a long time”, with the crowd split into two for an impromptu harmony which worked well.
Sheeran spoke of how, when working with legendary record producer Rick Rubin on his second album, Rubin told him that a good song is only a good song if you can strip it back to only voice and guitar. Sheeran absolutely demonstrated this with “Shape of You”, which should have been performed as a full-on, full band belter, but was perfectly performed without the “bells and whistles” – and a wry lyrical reference to loop pedals, which gained a big laugh.
By this point, due to the delay addressing the technical problems, the gig was dangerously close to Eden Park’s 11pm curfew. Sheeran went right to the wire, apologising again but saying that it was “really fun to be performing with his acoustic guitar” and saying that we’d “still do the fireworks, because we paid for them!” so he finished up with “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”, lasers, fire plumes and fireworks.
Sheeran may have been disappointed, but we weren’t. It was a cracking, memorable, unique gig. Ed delivered sheer perfection – despite the technical problems.
Click any icon to view a full gallery of gorgeous photos, thanks to Ivan Karczewski.
- I’m A Mess
- The A Team
- Castle on the Hill
- Don’t/ No Diggity
- I See Fire
- Visiting Hours
- Own It/ PERU/ Beautiful People/ I Don’t Care
- Overpass Graffiti
- Galway Girl
- Thinking Out Loud
- Love Yourself
- The Parting Glass
- Lego House
- Bad Habits
- Give Me Love
- Shape of You
- You Need Me, I Don’t Need You
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