Ed Sheeran at Páirc Uí Chaoimh, Cork, on Friday 4th May 2018

In the first major concert held in Páirc Uí Chaoimh since its major renovations, Ed Sheeran opened his nine-date Irish tour in style with a performance that left all in attendance in awe of the Suffolk-born singer.

The evening kicked off with Northen Irish trad-band Beoga who helped Sheeran write the biggest Irish hit of his career, Galway Girl. Putting on an impressive performance which showcased each member’s virtuosity on their instrument, the group played songs from their 2016 album, ‘Before We Change Our Mind’, as well as their anti-homelessness single We Don’t Have To Run which was released that very day.

Next to the stage was Jamie Lawson, the first signee from Sheeran’s label. With an acoustic guitar and a four-piece band, Lawson played hits from his four studio albums and made sure that all in attendance were made aware of his immeasurable skill. It was only towards the end of his set that the majority of the crowd began to filter through, and so Lawson sometimes found his voice drowned out by the screaming of children and chatting of parents across the arena. Nevertheless, he gave an impressive performance, and one we should hope to see again in Ireland sooner rather than later.

With hits such as Rockabye, Alarm and 2002, behind her English pop-singer, Anne-Marie looked at ease with the size of the venue, winning the crowd over with stories of female empowerment and accepting yourself for all your flaws. With catchy pop-tunes and memorable sing-alongs, Anne-Marie seems like a possible pop princess in the making. Barring a few bad jokes, she was the perfect appetizer before the night truly kicked off.

And boy did it kick off. The volume from the crowd trebled the instant the lights switched off, and intensified as Sheeran was spotted walking towards the spotlight. The set began as it meant to go on – upbeat, on-point and filled with his self-made backing track, created through his use of a loop-station (which he was quick to explain to the crowd, following accusations of lip-syncing during his Glastonbury performance last year).

Commencing with Castle on The Hill, before moving onto Eraser and A-Team, the positioning of this song in the set spoke volumes about Sheeran’s repertoire. Few artists would risk playing their debut hit so early and those who do have normally released six albums since, rather than Sheeran’s three.

During A-Team, Sheeran asked the crowd to raise their torches to the sky, and though the sun had not yet set, the view was still special. A mix of Don’t and New Man followed, proceeded by Bloodstream, Happier and arguably his biggest hit, Thinking Out Loud.

Thinking Out Loud in particular was met to a raucous reception, as men across the Pairc’s pitch could be seen falling to one knee as though proposals were in fashion.

I’m A Mess, the opening track from his his third album was one of the highlights of the evening with Sheeran leaping across speakers and steering the crowd from verse to verse. His energy was never-ending and he fed off of energy the crowd threw at him.

It was at this point that your could feel the arena shift slightly, as Sheeran manoeuvred into the emotional and romantic section of the evening with songs such as Tenerife Sea, Photograph and One. With hushed vocals and minimal backing replacing the bigger layered production of the early set, the crowd could be heard singing back every last syllable, as images of water, photos of Sheeran himself as a child and a dragon’s eye (for the Hobbit theme, ‘I See Fire‘) were transposed onto the huge monitors behind him and to either side of the large stage set-up.

As the last syllables of Perfect rung out across the arena, Beoga returned to the stage to play the Irish-influenced Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan. This is when the magic truly began. Beginning with the opening verse of the Steve Earle hit of the same name, Sheeran watched as everyone around him went wild as he played Galway Girl with as much energy and vivacity as he could muster. The introduction of Beoga alone was met by one of the loudest screams of the night. With three songs left, Sheeran jumped, rapped, looped and sang his way through Sing before his encore began with Shape of You and ended with his rap-influenced You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.

Arriving on stage for his encore sporting a Cork GAA jersey, Sheeran gave the Cork crowd another reason to love him, though by that point they didn’t need any more. Sheeran had delivered a masterclass in performance, audience control and instrumentation. It’s not hard to see how he has risen to become one of the biggest pop stars in the world, with his one-man band a sight to behold. For any gig-goer, even if not the biggest fan of Sheeran’s music, his live show is a something special, and is one that should be experienced before he inevitably replaces his trusted loop pedal with a live band. Though this may have been one of the first gigs to be held in Cork’s GAA capital, it’s already very difficult to see how it could be topped.

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