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Review: Ed Sheeran battles tech problems but still delivers fireworks in Manchester – Dianne Bourne


As a giant cylinder video screen of butterflies lifts from the stage into the sky, the solitary figure of Ed Sheeran emerges inch by inch until the adoring crowd at the Etihad Stadium reaches fever pitch. One man and his guitar, Ed manages to single-handedly fill this vast football stadium with a crashing wall of sound.

The 60,000 fans packing into the Etihad on Thursday on this, the first of his four Manchester gigs this week, ensure to roar back every note. But even a master showman like Ed can fall foul of a technical gremlin or two given the sheer ambition and scale of this production and performance.

Wearing a T-shirt spelling out Manchester in rainbow colours, it all starts swimmingly enough for Ed – with plumes of rainbow coloured fireworks blowing into the sky, appropriately to match BLOW.

READ MORE: Mick Jagger pictured leaving Manchester hotel ahead of huge concert in Liverpool

But when he launches into I’m a Mess it turns, unfortunately, into a bit of a mess when the power goes off his guitar and it is plunged into silence. He says he “needs to change the batteries” and a quick guitar swap ensues.

He then apologetically explains that it will mean a change to the setlist on opening night.

Ed explains: “We are going to restart the pedal so you’re going to get a song that is not normally on the setlist.” He reveals that it’s none other than Lego House one of his earliest hits. And that it was originally written for boyband JLS, and naturally the crowd lap up this unexpected treat.

Technical hitches aside, this is in all other respects a night of energetic pop genius at work. It’s quite extraordinary that for the majority of this show Ed is totally alone on stage, carving out each song with his roster of acoustic guitars and that (glitchy) loop pedal.

He masterfully orchestrates the sea of fans standing around the central stages – and is swift to call out to security when he sees anything getting a bit too chaotic. He struts the revolving stage throughout as he threads a fascinating narrative of his life in music thus far around his huge global hits.



Ed Sheeran at The Etihad

And as for the staging? Well you don’t get much more spectacular than a vast web of dazzling light rigs that straddle a central stage and video screens shaped like guitar plectrums do you? Team that with blasts of fireworks at key moments like when the entire crowd is going jig crazy for Galway Girl.

There’s a particularly touching moment when Ed tells the crowd of the very first time he played in Manchester at The In the City music conference. He thought people had come to see him but it was actually the act ahead of him and they “all f***ed off when I came on stage” he said to the amusement of the tens of thousands cramming in here. All was not lost though as the one person who stayed to watch him “is now my lawyer,” Ed laughed.

That he’s now telling this story in front of 60,000 adoring fans shows just how far he’s come since that unlikely Manchester debut. He’s such an attentive idol as well. Constantly checking in that we are enjoying ourselves, and encouraging us to sing a little louder.

“I know it’s a Thursday night but this is the capital of music. I want to turn this venue into a festival, I want to see everyone jumping around with this song,” he booms as he strums into life Castle on the Hill and the crowds swiftly obey his command.



Ed Sheeran at The Etihad

“I want you to sing louder than me,” he says as he encourages us all to sing even loud enough and lose our voices if we can. To aid in the cause he launches into one of his biggest anthems Thinking Out Loud.

This show is simply quite, quite spectacular. Never more so than with diamond dancers playing out on the big screens and the audience lighting the stadium with mobile phone lights to the emotional Photograph.

Or when the pumping thud of Bloodstream shudders to a dramatic finale as if to make every single one of our hearts beat out of our chests. We are left breathless, but it is barely seconds before he returns for the encore of a jumping Shape of You before a truly mesmerising firework finale lights the night sky over the Etihad.

I’ve no doubt that those heading along for round two, three or four on Friday, Saturday and Sunday here in Manchester will be blown away by it all. Even if there’s the occasional hiccough along the way – it’s all part of the journey of course.

Set list

Tides
BLOW
I’m a Mess
Shivers
The A Team
Castle on the Hill
2step
Don’t / No Diggity
Lego House
Visiting Hours
Own it / PERU/Beautiful People/ I Don’t Care
Overpass Graffiti
Galway Girl
Thinking Out Loud
Love Yourself
Sing
Photograph
Perfect
Bloodstream
Afterglow
ENCORE
Shape of You
Bad Habits
You Need Me, I Don’t Need You

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