“My dream is to play small theaters in England…This has gone way beyond,” says Ed Sheeran to a sold-out SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif. on Saturday night (Sept. 23).
Indeed, playing to a record-breaking 81,000 fans – the most tickets the venue has sold for a one-day event – is staggering. But the show itself is just as surprising. Sheeran commands the stadium all on his own, accompanied primarily by his five loop stations and various guitars. And while he is occasionally joined by a band, a first for his tours, his biggest collaborator is arguably the stage itself.
Surrounded by six smaller stages (from which the band played) with guitar pick-shaped screens hanging above each one, Sheeran stands alone in the center of it all, on a circular and spinning stage. Complete with a rotating ring (that looks much like a treadmill in track form) and retractable stairs, it seems to move and breathe in perfect harmony with Sheeran – and that’s no small task, as the artist seemingly never stopped moving, demonstrating the agility and stamina of a boxer in the ring.
For the following two-plus hours, he delivers his own version of an Eras Tour, performing songs off each of his mathematical equation-named albums – +, ×, ÷ =, − – as well as a medley of hits from No. 6 Collaborations Project and even a special, and seemingly spontaneous, live debut off his forthcoming release Autumn Variations.
Sheeran often reminds the crowd that it’s been five years since he last toured America, during which he’s only accumulated more hits and sharpened his vocals, musicianship and mental agility. And while he has always performed on his own, doing so for over 80,000 people felt particularly impressive – as were these five moments from the set.
The Peek Into His Process
For any first-timers in the crowd, and for those who may have needed a refresher, Sheeran took a moment to explain how exactly he performs. After all, coming to a stadium show and being entertained for over two hours by just one person is… not often the norm. Sheeran stresses that he performs with “no backing tracks whatsoever,” showing off his loop stations, which are a series of pedals he uses to record and loop the audio so that it plays repeatedly. He tells the crowd what they hear tonight was different from last night and will be different from the next, since everything is looped live on the spot. This was perhaps most impressive on the sweeping and cinematic “Give Me Love,” during which Sheeran seems to lose himself entirely in the process — in the best way.
The A+ Intro To “A Team”
Sheeran explains that he wrote his breakout hit, “The A Team,” when he was just 18. “I thought, ‘This is the song that’s gonna change it all,’” he recalls. “No one cared.” He remembers performing the song in small England venues to empty rooms or a bunch of people with their backs to the stage. “Eventually, people started caring,” he says with a smirk. “A Team” became the lead single for his 2011 debut album and went on to earn him his first Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.
The Way He Did “Don’t”
While pacing the circular treadmill onstage, Sheeran performs his hit “Don’t” with a compelling twist. As the song’s sonic backbone continues on loop, he cycles through a series of songs all of which synced with the beat: “No Diggity,” “California Love” and “The Next Episode.” The medley served as both an ode to musical through lines and, of course, Sheeran’s passion and talent for rapping.
The Well-Timed Live Debut
“We’re adding in a song on the set list” announces Sheeran, coordinating in real time with his musical director and keyboardist Ashton Miranda. “I’m putting out an album next Friday,” he continues, “[and] I’m putting it out on my own record label…no music videos, no singles.” He explains that the forthcoming project, titled Autumn Variations and produced by Aaron Dessner, is made up of 14 stories about 14 friends in Autumn — “Fall, for you guys,” he says, a fitting comment given that Sept. 23 marked the first day of the season. Sheeran then begins to introduce a never-before heard song titled “American Town,” which he says is, quite simply, about “falling in love in an American town.” He later performed another track from the album, “Plastic Bag,” about trying to numb pain with things that ultimately never help.
The “Grandparents” Segment
With just about an hour left of the show, Sheeran makes an important announcement. “From this point forward, these are the songs your grandparents know,” he says. “If you don’t know these, you’re at the wrong show.” The hit parade included Justin Bieber’s “Love Yourself” — which Sheeran co-wrote with Benny Blanco on a tour bus in 2015 — along with his own songs including “Sing,” Photograph” and “Perfect.” As the circular screen that encapsulated the stage prior to the show begins to descend, Sheeran delivers “Afterglow” as phone flashlights wave across the stadium. Within seconds, it lifts again to reveal Sheeran in a number 29 jersey with “Autumn Variations” printed across the back (the album arrives on Friday, Sept. 29). “Would you like another?!” he asks before diving into “Shape Of You.” After, he has one more question: “Have you got energy for one more song?” he asks, saving the punchy “Bad Habits” for last, made complete with a series of sparklers and fireworks that surround Sheeran with their colorful explosions.