Ed Sheeran at the Phoenix Park Dublin on the 16th of May, 2018
Wednesday 16th May saw Ed Sheeran play the first of three sold shows in Dublin’s Phoenix Park, by the end of which he will have played to 150,000 people.
On arrival, the event immediately felt more like a festival than your average gig, with food and drink stands dotted all around the main arena and lengthy queues to justify them. Sheeran’s merchandise could be seen on fans young and old around the arena, with blue face-paint and glitter, consistent with the cerulean theme of his latest album ‘Divide’.
The most immediately striking fact about the arena was, however, the diversity of age groups present in it. Young children, teenagers, older couples and parents were in attendance with far less reluctance than one would have expected at such a concert.
Sheeran’s choice of support acts was clever, given that they catered to several tastes within the audience. Traditional Irish group Beoga placated any reluctant parents, while Anne Marie satisfied the young teenagers in the audience with her pop anthems. Jamie Lawson acted as an intermediary between the two, with songs that toe the line of pop but retain folk elements. The crowd were certainly well warmed up by the time Sheeran walked on stage to an eruption of applause.
Without addressing the audience, Sheeran launched straight into the lead single from ‘Divide’ Castle On The Hill, before assuring the crowd that “everything you hear tonight is completely live from this loop station and this guitar”. With no band accompanying him on stage, the singer built up each song through layers of guitar lines and vocals and percussion from the body of the instrument, a signature technique that has since become integral to both his set and “DIY musician” brand.
Loop pedals are notoriously temperamental and difficult to perfect, it was humbling to hear the imperfections in the odd (rare) pitchy note or out of time riff. Three songs in, as the sun began to set and the temperature in the park decreased, a roadie ran on stage to give him a jumper, “nippy, innit?”.
A collection of songs from Sheeran’s full discography spanned the set, from the A Team to Eraser, as well as some covers including Feeling Good. After performing Galway Girl, he invited Beoga back on stage to perform a brief rendition of the original version, which was met with some scoffing and eye-rolling.
The lack of live band was compensated in the stunning visual display and stage design; giant division symbols were placed on either side of the stage with screen cut outs above and to the back. Visuals included hypnotic red flames, neon lions, emojis and distorted blue divide symbols.
Sheeran spoke easily to the crowd in-between songs with anecdotes and jokes, “I wrote this [I’m A Mess] in the shower… I think it sounded better in the shower”. He later addressed the “2% of the audience that do not want to be here”; the boyfriends and the superdads, and requested them to swallow their pride for the evening and dance.
Thinking Out Loud, One and Photograph slowed the pace of the set down considerably as couples slow danced and swayed, before speeding up again for his encore performances of Shape of You and You Need Me Man, I Don’t Need You (for which he changed appropriately into an Irish soccer jersey).
Sheeran ends a triumphant two week stretch of Irish tour dates this week, spanning Cork, Galway, Belfast and Dublin. Unlike some of his contemporaries, such as Taylor Swift who is struggling to sell out dates in Croke Park next month, it is evident that the singer has nurtured a solid fan base within Ireland and will be greeted with open arms when he returns again.