Ed Sheeran walks on stage at Forest Hills Stadium in Queens without a proper introduction, in accordance with his humble demeanor. I see his fiery red hair, which is already saturated with sweat, through the screen of the iPhone held by the person in front of me. General admission fans are taking pictures from every angle, and I am no better. I take a few seconds to try to document the evening myself, but realize by the second verse of the night’s first song that this is an impossible task. Suddenly I want to walk around the stadium like a cranky old math teacher, holding out a tin bucket to collect cell phones, because an Ed Sheeran concert cannot be condensed into one iPhone image.
An iPhone cannot capture any of the things that matter. It will miss the rate at which Ed Sheeran is able to drum the beat of “Bloodstream” on the body of his guitar. It will miss the sound of the crowd going absolutely mad for an encore. It will miss the feeling you get when you hear a song live for the first time, after a year and a half of screaming it while driving down the only remaining back road in your town. It will miss the way the crowd seamlessly readjusts to any one of the covers on the set list—whether it’s Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” or Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”—and Ed’s resulting look of success and satisfaction after seeing the acceptance of the audience members. I come to this conclusion early in the show, and it is reaffirmed throughout the night, as each song prompts an emotional reaction from both Ed and myself.
The man to my left is refreshing Twitter, the young girl to my right has sat down on the ground to check her Facebook and I am crushed. This happens during a song that, as Ed took the time to explain, did not find a place on his second album, but is still important to him. I want to shake the shoulders of the people around me and ask them what they’re thinking. Don’t you get it? Don’t you understand how important this is? This is my third time seeing Ed Sheeran perform, and each time I am amazed by the amount of talent he possesses. I want to ask the people around me why they are not in awe the way that I am. Why don’t they see what I see?
I want to pull them aside and tell them that they are watching live art being made. I want to remind them that one singer-songwriter is filling an entire stadium with only an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal. This is real music, I want to say, this is art! I want them to study the incredible rhyme scheme in the second verse of “Don’t.” I want Ed Sheeran concerts to be required material in elementary school music classes. I want them to stop being self-conscious because we’re at an outdoor venue in May and it’s not yet dark enough to hide their poor dancing. I want them to stop thinking about their own lives for a few hours and just be completely immersed in Multiply. Why, during “Photograph,” are there people facing the back of the stadium, chatting with friends? He sings an extended version of the song “Take It Back,” and they are not empathetic to the message behind it. They aren’t listening to his writing, his words—as he tells the audience the importance of “talent and work ethic,” the people around me do not seem to understand. When they hear, “For four years I never had a place to stay / but it’s safe to say that it kept me grounded like a paper weight,” why don’t they realize that Ed moved away from home at 16 years old and couch surfed in London because pursuing music was more important than living a comfortable life? Are they blind to his drive? There is triumph exuding from this song—it is the story of how he grew from a homeless teen to an international singer-songwriter, using only a guitar and a loop pedal. He is proud, but more palpably, he is grateful. I can hear it in the humility of his voice. He sings, “You’d find me buskin’ on the street / when it was cold outdoors / and now I’m sweating on the stage of a sold out tour,” as the man next to me refreshes Instagram.
Give me love like never before / ‘cause lately I’ve been craving more
I suppose I am the exception and not the rule, and I can readily admit that I take concerts very seriously. It’s the way I imagine a nun experiences Christmas Eve mass, though that comparison may sound ludicrous to many. It is difficult to express in words the phenomenon that is Ed Sheeran, mainly because his own words are so unparalleled. Perhaps this isn’t a review at all, but it isn’t meant to sound like a rant—rather, I just need to express that music is everything to me, and I realized tonight that this is more unique than I had formerly believed. All I really know is that Ed Sheeran has reminded me many, many times why I am so completely in love with music, and I want others to feel his art the way I do.