It's a multi-sensory extravaganza as sweet Ed Sheeran wins over Wellington crowd

11:58 am on 3 February 2023
A large crowd watches Ed Sheeran in Wellington.

A large crowd watches Ed Sheeran in Wellington. Photo: Asia Martusia King / RNZ

Review - He's one of the most famous music artists on the globe, selling more than 150 million records worldwide, and he seems genuinely chuffed to be performing at Wellington's Sky Stadium.

"I'm honoured," Ed Sheeran says, slowly rotating on a platform. "I don't take this for granted."

Sheeran is performing on what's essentially a giant Lazy Susan, sprinting about like an enriched rat on a wheel. He has the boundless energy of a gazelle. There are occasional bursts of pyrotechnics, matching his luminescent ginger hair.

It's evident that a lot of money's gone into this. Massive displays are suspended from the ceiling so everybody gets a taste of Ed, and each song is accompanied with themed audiovisuals, essentially live music videos. Some have the 2010 vibe of a teen girl playing with Photobooth on a Macbook; there are weird halftones and filters, or glossy gemstone-like effects which make Ed look like he's trapped in an amulet. Others are more abstract and artistic.

A massive collaborative effort from animators, designers and AV techs has gone into creating a multi-sensory extravaganza. Ed's responsive and equitable to the crowd, and combined with the alluring displays, nobody feels left out of the fun.

The crowd initially has the energy of a Wiggles concert. Families sit politely with their kids. They drone along with the Kiwi monotony of a morning school assembly. As Ed stokes the fire with 'A-Team', an older lady beside me begins tapping her foot, and I decide to use her as my hype meter.

When Ed performs 'Shiver', she throws in some jiggles - by the middle of the concert, she's a $12 red wine down and slapping her knee, both hands in the air. I feel her joy. Groups of lads are hugging, couples are slow dancing, the arena is awash with glittering phone lights.

A cellphone is held in the air during Ed Sheeran's Wellington concert.

A cellphone is held in the air during Ed Sheeran's Wellington concert. Photo: Asia Martusia King / RNZ

When Ed proclaims he's from a small farming town, New Zealanders erupt into empathetic applause. He hits all the boxes: he lauds sausage rolls, mentions Whittaker's chocolate, and wears a cool shirt which says 'WELLINGTON' on it.

He plays 'I See Fire', his song recorded in Aotearoa for The Hobbit, and discusses why each piece is meaningful to him. Ed truly, honestly, seems enthused to perform - out of all the artists I've ever seen live, he's one you'd love to sit in a car and eat hot chips with.

Ed Sheeran

Ed Sheeran. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

As an artist, he slaps harder than the music videos at fancy New Worlds (my only prior exposure to Sheeran) would lead one to believe. The guy can shred on a guitar and performs the entire show fully live. He points the crowd to his pedals and demonstrates how it works, showing how he loops in the backing vocals. It's a small gesture which goes a long way in today's music scene.

Ed's a minute into 'Galway Girl' when disaster strikes. He forgets the words. He's extremely sweet and bashful about it - he tries again, but now it's a mental block. Rather than throwing a sook, Ed kneels down and asks a tween girl named Pippa in the front row if she knows the words. She does.

A minute later, the girl emerges from a trapdoor onstage, and techies fumble with her headset. She's in front of 47,999 people, singing the song with Ed strumming beside her. She does a beautiful job, and everyone claps, and Ed gives her a hug. It's a Wattpad fanfic come true.

After 'Galway Girl', Ed continues the show flawlessly. He shares the gravity of how much a song can mean to someone, and how much he appreciates that tens of thousands individuals in the crowd have their own stories accompanying his music. God, he's sickening.

After his big singalong hits, the show slows down again. There's only so much gentle swaying one can do, and it's the first time I'm glad to be seated at a concert. People trail off to the toilet, and hype meter lady goes on her phone. As the final song fades away, the audiovisual display - a large enclosed ring - begins slowly descending on Ed. It's genuinely like watching him die. He slowly disappears beneath it and people rush out to grab e-scooters. Bye bye, Ed.

I will think of Ed being slowly crushed by a giant television, but mostly I'll recall him amongst a swell of phone lights, and the lady beside me gleefully throwing her arms into the air. Will I listen to his music on purpose? Probably not - but it was delightful to be an honorary fan, and a parasocial friend, for even one night.

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