Here is what happened when Ed Sheeran took his shoes off in Tampa.
“I got given these shoes,” Sheeran told the sold-out crowd of more than 15,000 at Amalie Arena Tuesday night, “and they’re the most uncomfortable f—ing pair of shoes of I’ve ever worn in my life. So much so that … does anyone want them?”
And so, with a Henson Company grin spreading beneath his strawberry mop, Sheeran stripped off the designer clogs he’d worn two nights prior at the MTV Video Music Awards and hocked them into the crowd.
“I regularly get voted worst dressed at things,” he said, “but my answer to it is, I wear sneakers, jeans and a T-shirt all the time. And looking around, all I see in this room are sneakers, jeans and T-shirts. So either they’re right and we’re all badly dressed, or they’re wrong and we’re all actually dressed normal. I’d like to think that we’re right, Tampa. Right?”
Hey, when you’re already the world’s biggest male pop star, and you add to your repertoire the biggest hit you’ve ever written, you can wear whatever you want. The world is your oyster, and the audience is your footlocker.
Whoever scored Sheeran’s kicks walked away with the prize of a lifetime, but everyone else at Amalie made out pretty well, too. Touring behind his blockbuster album ÷ (Divide), and particularly its record-setting single Shape of You, Sheeran dazzled the adoring audience all by his lonesome with his unique brand of buskerly balladry and frizzy Fraggle rock.
For all his Grammys and Moon Men, Sheeran’s greatest accomplishment may be how well he’s transcended the coffee house cliche of the Guy With a Guitar. Taking away from acoustic, soft-rock sing-alongs like The A Team and Thinking Out Loud, it’s his expert’s use of looping pedals on faster tracks that really melts the mind – snapping his strings, flogging his fretboard and popping his palm across the body, building samples of each sound until they fill the arena.
Divide’s surging Castle on the Hill and Celtic-flavored Galway Girl and Nancy Mulligan may not have sounded quite as robust as the full-band album versions, but they came dang close. On Bloodstream, the arena roared, almost shook, as he stacked chord upon chord upon chord.
All this sampled sound often freed Sheeran up to grab a mic and meander the stage, rapping furiously on Eraser and Don’t, conducting the crowd as his chorus on the anthemic Sing, and building his signature closer You Need Me, I Don’t Need You into a rabid, feral one-man festival of strumming, singing and beatboxing.
You’d think that with all this looping, he’d have zero room for error as he harmonized in time with himself, turning the voice of one into a choir of many. But whenever he got thrown a curveball, he shrugged and swung away. When a tech handed him the wrong guitar at the wrong point in the setlist, he switched gears and played Tenerife Sea, a heart-ripping love song utterly gorgeous in any era. And later on, he said he’d gotten a request that day to play Give Me Love, a difficult song he didn’t think he’d played live in America since 2013. A little rusty at first, that one, but it didn’t matter – if anything, it felt more human, especially since he found his groove by the end anyway.
Where does Sheeran take his talent from here? Well, he could do worse than following the lead of his buddy James Blunt, who opened the show. More than a decade after the runaway success of You’re Beautiful, Blunt has finessed his set into something much leaner and tighter.
Blunt still served up softly strummed fare like Heartbeat and Make Me Better, and swelling piano ballads like Don’t Give Me Those Eyes, all in his nimble, lilting squawk. But he also thrummed up a heartbeat or two on peppery pop tracks Bartender and the EDM-ish OK, and hopped up to surf a rickety piano on rousing closer 1973. And he did it all with charm and self-awareness.
“I know you didn’t buy tickets to see me,” Blunt mock-chided the audience. “You only know one of my songs, and I’m not even going to play it.”
But of course he did, exaggerated guitar faces and all, as the crowd sang You’re Beautiful back to him. Too bad he’s gotten such a bum rap for that delicate track, which still moves if you’re in the right mindset.
Sheeran is all of 26, and he now has plenty of singles as big as You’re Beautiful, amassing more with every new album. The biggest of all is this year’s Shape of You, which just set a new record for most consecutive weeks (33) inside Billboard‘s Top 10.
When Sheeran opened his encore with Shape of You, he did so sporting his own Tampa Bay Lightning Jersey, SHEERAN 17 on the back, dancing and filming himself as he built the song’s syncopated sizzle from samples of his guitar and, for the first time, a keyboard.
A custom hockey jersey for a pair of designer kicks? Pretty fair trade, if you ask us. On this night, both Sheeran and Tampa made out like kings.
— Jay Cridlin