Ed Sheeran received the Starlight Award at the 2017 Songwriters Hall of Fame ceremony in New York, called the honor 'humbling.' (June 16) AP
There was a brief moment — about halfway through Ed Sheeran’s sold-out performance in Des Moines on Friday night — where the pop star flashed his genuine, contagious smile and inhaled. If only for seconds, he basked in the praise of the 13,000-plus onlookers.
Catching himself before falling deeper into the moment, he said, “I know I’m saying this a lot, but I’m really having a lot of fun tonight. There must be something in the water in America because I’m about as jet lagged as jet lagged can be and I feel wide awake.”
It’s hard not to believe the British star when he says he’s having fun, performing for the third time — his second headlining show — at downtown Des Moines’ Wells Fargo Arena. Intentional or not, he seeps infectious enthusiasm, commanding the stage on his own, wielding only an acoustic guitar and an army of loop pedals (Not sure how that works? NME explains it here.).
Pulling 13,450 people, Sheeran proved energetic and relentless in his 100-minute set, which comes in support of the singer’s best-selling third studio album, “ ÷ (Divide).”
Diving into America: Friday night marked Sheeran’s second American tour date in support of his No. 1 charting album, “Divide,” with the tour’s opening gig taking place Thursday night in Kansas City. Dipping heavily into “Divide” for the evening’s 19-song setlist, Sheeran opened with the bellowing “Castle on the Hill,” with “Divide” tracks “Eraser,” “New Man,” “Happier” and the grandmother-dedicated “Supermarket Flowers” all sprinkled throughout the set.
Sheeran split his time between songs praising the audience and sharing his joy for being back in America.
“Des Moines, you know what’s blowing my mind a little bit?” he said early in the evening. “Being an English musician, America’s always this place you will never find success in. … [They say] the way you really know when you’ve broken America is when you come into the center of it and have real Americans come to your show. “
Prior to performing “Bloodstream,” he continued his adulation: “I don’t say that enough, but I really don’t take this for granted, being an Englishman and being able to sell out at show at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa.”
When diverging from "Divide," Sheeran dug back into his catalog to deliver fan-favorites such as “Photograph,” “Sing,” “I See Fire” and “The A Team.” Performing solo, the 26-year-old shines for his ability to make the largest rooms feel intimate, as if he were playing his acoustic guitar in the back of a club and not atop the largest indoor stage Iowa offers. If his gooey, sometimes over-the-top pop is unsettling (as it can be to some), Sheeran’s sole ability to entrance a crowd of more than 13,000 people should prove respectable to even the most skeptical music fan.
Through the night's new and old songs, Sheeran anchors back to his long-awaited return to the Midwest.
“You know, I’ve been playing [these songs] for four months and I haven't played them on American soil,” he said. “Last night was the first time playing them on American soil, which was quite exciting.”
A “beautiful” opener: Fellow British songsmith James Blunt opened the show with a pleasing 45-minute, 10-song performance that spanned the singer’s decade-and-a-half tenure of mild-mannered alternative pop tunes.
Well-disciplined in his craft, Blunt played the role of opening act well, warming the crowd repeatedly for what was to come from Sheeran. The singer, guitarist and pianist leaned heavily on his 2017 album “The Afterlove” for the set, including “Bartender,” “Heartbeat” and the Sheeran co-written “Make Me Better,” which Blunt described as being “the most romantic song that Ed Sheeran’s ever written” for his wife.
“You know it’s pretty amazing that in half an hour or so … one guy is going to come out with just a guitar and make a hell of a racket,” Blunt said before performing “Don’t Give Me Those Eyes.”
He continued: “I admire him not just for the talent, but it’s a hell of a lot cheaper than what we do.”
Backed by a four-piece band, Blunt didn’t leave without giving the restless onlookers a playful version of “You’re Beautiful,” the song that launched the Hampshire native into international acclaim.
“Hey, listen,” he joked. “I’m told that most of you were conceived to this song.”
The shape of an encore: After an initial, 17-song set, the red-haired performer returned to deliver a two-song encore for the faithful fanbase (coined Sheerios, of course) sporting an "Ed" Moines-themed shirt. The shirt reads “O-I-O-I-O-O-Iowa … I’m in love with the shape of you,” so, naturally, Sheeran boisterously ran the crowd through a rousing rendition of No. 1 Billboard charting single “Shape of You.”
From “Shape of You,” Sheeran moved directly into his show-stopping jam of “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.” Pushing every aspect of his show to its breaking point, the five-plus minute closing track offered the high point of the evening's set.
He spent his last moments on stage raising one hand to the crowd, again showing his appreciation for the audience. If you didn’t believe him the third, fourth of fifth time he showed it, you had to believe him by the sixth. His charm leaves you with no other option.
“Des Moines, Iowa, thank you so much,” he said. “Go home safe.”