When the headliner took the stage Tuesday at the Sprint Center, the crowd screamed and squealed as if a boy band were about to perform.
But the stage was equipped only with two microphones, a few monitors and a dozen video screens hanging at the back.
Ed Sheeran was the headliner, and he is neither a boy nor a band.
“I’m here to entertain you, and you’re here to be entertained,” he told the crowd of nearly 8,000. And for more than 90 minutes, he did just that, by himself, as a one-man band, accompanied only by his guitars and whatever sounds and embellishments he could conjure via the loop pedals and other gadgets at his disposal.
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Sheeran, 23, is a busker with a personality as vibrant as his shaggy red hair and as endearing as his thick British accent. He writes mostly about love and romance and broken hearts, which explains why his audience is overwhelmingly female teens and tweens.
The set list drew equally from Sheeran’s two studio albums: “+” (“Plus”), released in September 2011 and “X” (“Multiply”), released in June. Both albums showcase Sheeran’s sound, a blend of folk, pop, soul and hip-hop. Live, he embellishes his songs by creating layers and loops of sounds — guitars, percussion, beatbox, vocals — and singing over them.
It hardly replaces a live band, but it adds the kind of heft necessary to keep an arena crowd engaged. And this crowd was engaged all night, singing along, whether prompted or not, lighting up the arena with cell phones and screaming like teenyboppers.
He opened with “I’m A Mess,” from the “X” album, then “Lego House,” from its predecessor. Both showcase a voice that is strong and agile. When he slips into his falsetto, as he did on “One,” he recalls James Blunt; other times he can sound like a more soulful version of David Gray or Cat Stevens.
The crowd responded enthusiastically to nearly every song, even “Make It Rain,” a new one that Sheeran has yet to record. But several were greeted with extra enthusiasm: “One,” “Give Me Love” and “Bloodstream.” On that one, the percussion Sheeran rendered by banging on his guitar was so heavy it rattled the arena.
The three-song encore aroused the most mania. He started with “You Don’t Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” showing off his rap flow and inserting a reference to the Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)”; then “The A Team,” the lead single from “+” and the song that started his rise to fame; then “Sing.”
Before that song, he choreographed a sing-along and asked the crowd to keep singing, even after he’d left the stage and while they were on their way out of the arena and all the way to their cars.
Plenty of his fans honored that request from an entertainer who had kept them plenty entertained all night.
I’m a Mess; Lego House; Don’t; Drunk; Take It Back; One; Bloodstream; Tenerife Sea; Runaway; Make It Rain; Thinking Out Loud; Give Me Love; I See Fire. Encore: You Need Me, I Don’t Need You; The A Team; Sing.