Sunday 22 January 2012

Ed Sheeran @ Brixton O2 Academy, 21st January

It was just over a year ago that Ed Sheeran signed to Atlantic Records.  Prior to this milestone, he was on a one man crusade of self-promotion, sofa surfing and performing at countless gigs.  And now, after a triple platinum selling debut album and four Brit nominees, Sheeran plays Brixton Academy - his biggest gig yet and, he claims, "the best of my career".

He has his detractors, those labelling him amongst the 'new boring', diminishing his songwriting talents.  But his stage performance is a world away from listening to the album and proves them wrong.  Despite the odd contrived lyric, his music is incredibly well executed.  His gig experience shows, as he remains a consummate professional throughout, totally at ease in front of the huge crowd.  Above all, he comes across as a thoroughly nice guy - shy and unassuming in interviews, he comes alive on stage.

What's most impressive was the virtuosic nature of the gig.  With no band and little technical stage wizardry (besides a few screens and lights), the emphasis is purely on Sheeran alone.  It's all about the guitar, the voice and the "loop station".  Each song was built up layer by layer, providing an expansive sound for a solo performer that differs considerably from the production of the album, whether in the upbeat numbers or the softer moments.  Audience interaction played a big part, using call and response to involve them in the music.  Songs from '+' were mixed with covers of Jamie Woon's Wayfaring Stranger and Nina Simone's Be My Husband for some extra variety, in some cases the guitar abandoned for a totally acapella performance of singing and beatboxing.  There was even a duet with Nizlopi's Luke Concannon.  You Need Me, I Don't Need You meanwhile was transformed into a fifteen minute tour-de-force that included guest appearances from Rizzle Kicks, Devlin, Mikill Pane and Wretch32.  Sheeran's cross-appeal is perhaps his greatest asset, combining pop singer/songwriter credentials with fast paced rapping and wordplay. 

Sheeran's performance has simply been transferred from smaller to larger venues and it's commendable that little has changed over the years, each audience member having the same experience.  Yet the nature of Sheeran's solo performance is better suited to more intimate spaces rather than Brixton Academy's 5000 person capacity.  This coupled with the persistance of screaming girls did detract from the experience slightly - even Sheeran himself shushed the audience at times.  Unfortunately, though, he's now become an established heartthrob who's key demographic is teenage girls - never again will audiences listen in hushed reverence.  Those fans from early gigs therefore have an enviable position.

Then again, Sheeran has come a long way over the last year and, judging by this performance, deserves to continue his success far into the future.  After tonight, I for one have new found respect.  The 'new boring'?  I don't think so.