I started to realize what I'd gotten myself into at around 4 p.m. when the Pageant posted a photo on Instagram of a group of girls who'd been waiting at the venue since 3 to get in -- 3 a.m. in the morning, that is. It looked like one of the lines you see when new iPhones are released, except if Justin Bieber were selling them.
Just to give you a sense of how big Ed Sheeran apparently is, on January 29 he sold out Radio City Music Hall, and starting in March he will open for Taylor Swift on a 69-show tour. He's also expected to perform a duet with Elton John at this year's Grammys, where "The A Team" is nominated for "Song of the Year."
At the Pageant, a good number of people in the crowd wore Ed Sheeran shirts, and a few more held up posters declaring their love. One girl even had to be carried out of the pit by security after she fainted; I should point out that I can't confirm if that was caused by Sheeran-mania.
Since I had arrived late, I ended up in the back, near the bar. That didn’t present a problem though, because aside from a few boyfriends and dads, the crowd stood about 5'4''. The only time I didn't have a clear view came during "The A Team" when a blockade of iPhones recording video obstructed my view. So if you want to see what all the Ed Sheeran hype is about, there are probably 500 different angles of the song on Youtube you could check out.
The first opener, singer-songwriter Foy Vance, had a deep Irish accent and even deeper v-neck. His rich voice and acoustic guitar were a bit dull, but pleasant to listen to for half an hour.
Rizzle Kicks reminded me of Kriss Kross, if you remember them. They both wore Cardinals jerseys -- one David Freese and the other Stan Musial -- and performed what I'd call "bubblegum grime," after the genre of British hip-hop. Their biggest song, "Mama Do the Hump," comes with a dance move called "The Hump." I found it very uncomfortable to watch.
Carrying just a guitar, Ed Sheeran took the stage quickly after Rizzle Kicks' set. By the end of his second song, I realized that much of the time the notes I heard didn't match what he was playing. Once, he even put down his guitar and climbed a top the speakers, only for the guitar to keep kicking. I soon learned that no, he wasn’t just lip-syncing the whole set. Ed recorded loops live with a foot pedal at the start of each song, mostly of his backing guitar and beat boxing. Once everything started to make sense, the looping really impressed me.
Musically, Ed Sheeran is actually quite talented. He mixes his singer-songwriter style with hip-hop, kind of like Jason Mraz on "The Remedy" or the Barenaked Ladies on "One Week." The feverish "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" is the best example of this, especially live because he cut twice to actual rap verses, first Macklemore's "Thrift Shop" and then 50 Cent's "In Da Club."
Lyrically though, Ed's not so good. "I'm gonna paint you by numbers / And color you in," he sings in "Lego House." "Maybe you're my snowflake," he adds in "Wake Me Up." I also found it funny that when not about love, the lyrics are mostly about drinking and getting high. I don't expect many of the parents at the show were too keen on their kids belting out, "I'm still drunk at the end of the night / But I don't drink like everybody else / I do it to forget things about myself."
As the show went on, I couldn't really figure out how a musician who covers Irish drinking songs and tunes by jazz and blues icon Nina Simone could have such a saintlike following amongst teenaged girls. I read his biography a few times, looking for that one moment that would explain why tickets to his sold-out show were fetching over $100 on StubHub, but only found humble beginnings and a lot of hard work (he's played over 900 shows since 2009). That made me like him even more. Maybe next time he's in town, I'll even camp out the night before to get a better spot.