"When I was six years old I broke my leg," sang Ed Sheeran in the first line of his set, after he strolled out to the eardrum-bursting screams of the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday, the first show of a two-night stand at the South Philly arena. As Sheeran opened with "Castle on the Hill," his tribute to country lanes, first kisses, and the friends who raised him from his third album ÷, the image of the English folk pop singer's familiar mop of shocking red hair was projected 20 times over on the screens above him.
After "Castle on a Hill," the Grammy-award winner launched into a medley of hits from his three mathematically-named albums — throwing in a cover of "Feeling Good" — including a pulsating rendition of x's "Bloodstream" and ÷'s irresistible hip-swaying "Shape of You," a tune that Sheeran says he initially penned with Rihanna in mind.
In contrast to Sheeran's buddy Taylor Swift (he opened for her 2013 Lincoln Financial Field show) and Katy Perry, who continually innovate their image and sound, Sheeran over the past three album has largely stuck to his tried and true brand of lovelorn everyman pop, with his mix of pining love songs, wistful odes to his hometown and family, and enough winking references to drugs and sex to keep it exciting. He also forewent stage theatrics, unlike his pop superstar peers, save for the bizarre and cringe-worthy graphics — for example: cartoon hearts cascading atop his face that resembled a Valentine's Day Evite from 2004. These images flashed on the screens behind him, as he stood onstage alone with his trusty guitar and loop pedal. Yet, this persona, while certainly not under-used, never appears contrived. Rather, Sheeran was utterly relaxed with his brief bits of jovial banter between songs. There was no pretense, Sheeran fills the stage by simply being himself.
"It baffles me how many people they can fit in here," he remarked at one point. Later, he added "It's so nice to hear that [sung] back" after playing "Hearts Don't Break Around Here" from ÷, a song he has only played in concert a few times before. Toward the end, Sheeran pointed out a 12-year-old girl in the front row reciting every lyric, and told her if he can be on stage, then she can be anything she wants to be.
Since Sheeran's first album, 2011's +, his scruffy, relatable starpower has continued to rise. Sheeran's two-night stand at the Wells Fargo Center is an upgrade from his previous Philly show, an 2015 outting at the Mann Center. But Sheeran's shtick translated to the larger stage well: He commanded the thousands of overwhelmingly female concertgoers. His raw talent and vulnerability conducted rounds of hand-clapping, arm-waving and sing-alongs, with even reluctant parents and spouses mouthing the words by the end.
Sheeran closed with an amped up and defiant extended version of "You Need Me, I Don't Need You," a single from +. As he spits "never be anything but a singer-songwriter," it's clear that Sheeran will continue to give the people what they want, as long as they continue to love it.