It’s hard to have anything against him. The roguish British songwriter is always as sympathetic as he is cuddly. Well, his songs are very similar. But when he processes the tones of his acoustic guitar with his ‘loop station’ into a real backing track, you always think: wow, how clever, do another one. And it’s also special that the now 31-year-old father of two daughters was still in the Netherlands at the Crossing Border in The Hague eleven years ago and now, on two consecutive evenings, in the Johan Cruijff Arena.
Ed Sheeran already played in this Amsterdam stadium four years ago. Solo, although he was unexpectedly visited on the stage by Robbie Williams. During his current tour, Sheeran is partly accompanied by a real band. What a bad idea.
Not just because it’s not a face: those extra guitarists, drummer and keyboardist are tens of meters apart, far away from their patrons, scattered between a kind of kebab skewers that are pinned around the stage. But mainly because their contributions make the stadium sound even more disastrous than when Sheeran plays alone.
Offensively ugly keys and guitars reverberate right away in the opening song Tides. Then you all want to sing along, you can’t hear where Sheeran is in the song. Also so ridiculous: that rotating stage in the middle spot.
Sheeran’s spinning makes you dizzy, while your stomach is already having a hard time due to the sugar content of the repertoire. A single song about love and happiness is still doable, but two hours of sweets?
After the false start, Sheeran seems to loosen up a bit solo. Shivers really brings some atmosphere after the explanation how he can sound with guitar as a band. ‘Everything is live,’ he reassures the audience. He also states that he is grateful to the Netherlands for having embraced him first.
And oh, how sweet: a Brazilian gay couple announces that they are getting married in front of Ed’s microphone. Yes, Sheeran likes to contribute to everyone’s happiness. But does he really have nothing to say? The blankness that characterizes all his work slowly becomes unbearable. He puts some songs in a medley, but actually this concert is one long medley of always the same tone settings, tempi and weak vocal lines.
There is a moment in there for a change Galway Girl a violinist next to him who has to underline the Irish folk element of the song. Also from her playing you only hear a muddy sound. Meanwhile, the audience continues to join in with their smartphone lights and sings along word for word. All very pleasant. But how much superficiality can a person tolerate?
Sympathy turns to annoyance and eventually Ed Sheeran manages to get you angry. Okay, he gives the audience all the hits it came for, but it could have been better listened to at home. The man who is singing up there – yes, the stage can also go up into the air – becomes more and more distant, and worse: he muddles his songs into an amorphous lump of sound. And even in a stadium in 2022 there is no excuse for that.
14/7, Johan Cruyff Arena, Amsterdam.