Two Eds are better than one.
At least, British pop superstar Ed Sheeran thinks so. And he doubled down on that belief in Minneapolis this weekend.
He performed two separate concerts — Friday at the sold-out, intimate 2,200-seat State Theatre as part of his Subtract Tour and Saturday in front of a record 72,102 fans at the massive U.S. Bank Stadium as part of his Mathematics Tour.
And both shows featured two Eds — 1) the singer-guitarist newly accompanied by a five-man band (as well as a six-piece string section at the State) and 2) the familiar troubadour as one-man band aided by looping pedals that provide rhythm tracks and background vocals created on the spot.
In his return to the Vikings stadium, where he performed in 2018, Sheeran, 32, charmed with cuddly love songs, facile conversation and an Ed-genious in-the-round production with a revolving stage, six giant video screens shaped like guitar picks and strikingly flashy and creative visuals on a cylindrical screen over the stage and on other fixtures.
Sheeran had the center stage — with its revolving outer ring and elevating inner ring — all to himself. He briskly rotated or walked in a clockwise circle for much of the night in a manner that was almost dizzyingly distracting and less graceful than, say, Harry Styles on his recent in-the-round production.
When the band joined Sheeran for eight of the 25 selections, the musicians were stationed underneath four different giant poles that ringed the stage. Having the musicians separated from the singer by 25 yards in four directions seemed to minimize their significance, as if to say these supporting beams are an afterthought.
Compared with Friday’s equally expansive but different 2 ½-hour set, Sheeran seemed a bit rushed and less talkative on Saturday. There was an unmistakable sameness to all this solo-ness. At least bringing out opening act Khalid, the Texas soul singer, for their 2019 collaboration “Beautiful People” and violinist Alicia Enstrom for 2017’s “Galway Girl” changed the texture and vibe of the performance.
Sheeran also mixed things up by turning some of his favorites including “Perfect” and “Thinking Out Loud” — those first-dance wedding gems — into giant sing-alongs. And he certainly upped the energy during the encore with the hip-hop flavored “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” and the bouncy “Bad Habits,” which he stopped in mid-flamethrower because he forgot to hit the foot pedal for the rhythm track.
Having an in-the-round setup with banks of speakers facing in many different directions made it possible that pretty much everyone in the acoustically challenging stadium was having a similar sonic experience, for a change. And it was a good experience.
Sheeran’s concurrent tours this year might suggest a frustration with the too impersonal music business. Reading between the lines of his chatty, highly personal performance on Friday, there was a sense of a tiredness of being an integral cog in a big machine, a huge profit-maker from records and concerts. His first five albums sold more than 92 million combined while this year’s “-” (pronounced “Subtract”) has merely topped 1 million.
He explained Friday that it’s a “solitary, morose” album that doesn’t translate to stadiums (he played only three “Subtract” tracks during Saturday’s 2 ¼-hour show whereas he performed all 14 selections on Friday). And he plans to release an album this fall on his own label without “the same push or machine behind it. Songs will not be hammered down your throats for four or five years.”
His 2017-19 Divide Tour set industry records for largest gross and most tickets sold (only to be bested by Elton John’s just-completed Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour). Sheeran set a new one-night concert attendance mark at the Vikings coliseum, eclipsing the old standard set by Garth Brooks by about 2,000. (By comparison, Sheeran drew 49,359 to that same stadium in 2018.)
On this tour, Sheeran has proven to be a man of the people. Ever a good-guy, girl dad, he helped serve hot dogs in a shop in Chicago, cheesesteaks in a Philly joint and beers at an Atlanta brewery. In Tampa, he crashed a high-school band practice. So, what did he do in his spare time in the Twin Cities? He showed up with a guitar Saturday afternoon at Mall of America to sing in front of the Lego Store.
Guess that was the original Ed, the busker standing outside a storefront.