Ambient Music

Ed Sheeran, Wellington New Zealand, 2023


Ed Sheeran

2nd February 2023
Sky Stadium, Wellington, New Zealand.

Review by Tim Gruar. Feature photograph by Brady Dyer. 

On a hot and steamy Capital night Wellington’s waterfront was buzzing ahead of Ed Sheeran’s gig, ‘The Mathematics Tour’ saw an estimated 48,000 ticket holders making their way to Sky Stadium (locally known as The Cake Tin) for the first large scale gig since restrictions have fully been lifted.

Even if you weren’t attending, punters could still soak up the party atmosphere on ‘Road to Ed’, enjoying a free outdoor entertainment programme on the trail along the waterfront, with acts such as Zoe Moon, Earth Tongue, DJ MAZDEF and The Poneke Steamers. 

We arrive just in time to see Waimate born Country star Kaylee Bell and her 4 piece kick off proceedings with a track from her 2021 album Silver Linings called ‘Be with You’. Bell’s repertoire would easily go down well at a Keith Urban concert.  It’s predominantly well-crafted mainstream Country pop, not unlike Taylor Swift’s earlier years.

Most of the crowd are still shuffling in but faces light up as they appreciate the music. She’s super polished and knows how to use her time productively, working the room, getting ‘em up clapping and jiggling along. She’s best described as ‘singing like a southern belle with a kiwi-tinged Aussie accent’. And it’s that hayseed and Nashville glitter that shines through in her 30 minute set. You can tell she’s a consummate professional, having been nominated this for 3 music awards this year already. She’s a frequent player at the Tamworth Country Festival. She’s opened for Brad Paisley and Aussie Morgan Evans. And if you tuned into The Voice Australia last year you might have clocked her doing her single ‘Keith’, which went hugely viral on all the socials. Of course that one had to complete her set tonight. But not before we got a sulky rendition of ‘That Summer’ and a taste of her new single, the honky tonk scooter Boots’n’All.

Tonight was a chance to remind us of other new material, too, including the recently released ‘Small Town Friday Nights’, a celebration of growing up in Waimate and childhood memories made running free on Friday nights.

Also performing tonight was 21-year-old Maisie Peters, who along with Kaylee Bee also did Sheeran’s Wellington Opera House warm-up shows. Signed to his Gingerbread Records label, her innate gift for storytelling has seen the West Sussex-born singer earn millions of fans worldwide, including biggies like Taylor Swift, Phoebe Bridgers and Sam Smith. In October last year she dropped the bratty and cynical ‘Not Another Rockstar’, which I was really looking forward to tonight.

Peters and her three piece arrived to a badly edited version of Shania Twain’s ‘Man, I Feel Like A Woman’, which was unceremoniously cut mid chorus, and smashed into her first number: ‘You Signed Up For This’. But somewhere along the way the ink must have dripped into the sound gear because song was plagued by unwelcome crackling and popping like miss-timed fireworks. At first we thought this was part of the performance but it soon became clear something wasn’t right, forcing everyone to leave the stage while the crew dealt to the gremlins. They returned soon after but were defeated a second time by the same issues. On the third try they managed a healthy sounding version of the cutesy ‘Cate’s Brother’ and a chirpy, yet sarcastic ‘Body Better’. Peters is like Alanis on helium – she’s smiling blissfully, but underneath, full of conflict and ready to do you harm if you cross her. Songs like ‘Blonde’ and ‘Psycho’ show her gift for mixing the dark and sunshine in the same breath. So it was shame we didn’t get to see her at full potential as she sped to the closing credit with the cinematic ‘John Hughes Movie’ to stay on schedule for the main event. And, no, I didn’t get to hear ‘Not Another Rockstar’ after all. Damn.

There’s a short break, then we all settle in for the man. The clock counts down and the top part of the stage, a massive floating screen cylinder, like a cake tin without a lid, descends to make cover for Sheeran’s reveal.

With fireworks punctuating the sky, the cake tin rises and the show begins with blistering versions of ‘Tides’ and ‘Blow’. Sheeran, wearing black T-shirt with ‘Wellington’ on it, is alone on a massive round stage flanked by five angled poles, off which hang speakers and giant guitarpick/plectrum-shaped sub-arrays. During the show the cylinder, along with the plectrums, will display live video images from the stage mixed with some of the most vibrant and stunning graphics I have ever seen in live concert.

Stationed at the foot of each pillar is a member of the band, who are there mainly to occasionally enhance his sound. Because, as everyone know, Ed Sheeran’s a live-loop show. He shows everyone his ‘station’, a series of foot pedals that he will use constantly to layer up sounds, beats, keyboards and vocals as he constructs his repertoire. It’s a process he’s always done, executed so fast and efficiently you hardly notice and he struts, stomps, runs and jumps about the stage with the energy of a Olympic athlete.

This is Sheeran performing ‘in the round’. There’s an outer segment of the stage, which spins like a sort of conveyor belt, moving around the stadium so everyone gets the chance to see him – a smart, egalitarian concept that keeps everyone engaged throughout. The crowd love it and cheer him on, singing back every line like a devoted congregation. Pyros and fireworks bookend the set. But apart from that it’s mainly just the boy and his guitar, with the band appearing only a few times to bolster the songs appropriately.

If ever there was one place that has embraced him more whole heartedly it was on this very soil. Ed has already done a couple of more intimate shows openers at the Opera House and yet the locals are still unstated. And he’s proud to be back, reminiscing about the early tours, when the Capital welcomed him so enthusiastically. He throws out a few memories, including one ‘black mark’ for disliking our iconic Whitakers Chocolate, now all forgotten. The manufacturer hasn’t, though, and took to social media after the concert, cheekily announcing their ‘plans’ for a special bar named in his honour.

It’s a long way from his early Myspace days, when he had a standing offer to trundle along to any living room that could rustle up 20+ punters. That reminds him of an early gig here in the Capital, in 2012 when his big smash has just released and, on cue, uncorks the opening chords to ‘The A Team’ followed by a hearty rendition of ‘Castle On The Hill’ and a nod to his contribution to the ‘Lord Of The Rings’ movies with ‘I See Fire’.

There’s a heartfelt tribute to a former manager when he does ‘Visiting Hours’, supported by Ashton, the keyboardist, followed by a medley of songs written during various collabs (‘Own It / PERU / Beautiful People / I Don’t Care’) and a faithful take on ‘Overpass Graffiti’.

Right about now, Sheeran decides to change things up, bringing on Tina from Maisey Peters’ band to play fiddle on ‘Galway Girl’. Something isn’t right and he fluffs the lines and has to stop a couple of times. That somehow leads to a conversation with a school girl in the front row, who ‘actually’ seems to know all the right words. ‘Let’s bring her up. This’ll be fun!’, he announces. So Pippa, that’s her name, gets mic’d up and finds herself onstage with Ed Sheeran lustily singing the correct lyrics to ‘Galway Girl’. She nails it and lives to tell the tale at school assembly tomorrow. Good on ya, Pippa!

Then the big singalongs kick in – “Thinking Out Loud’ and Justin Bieber’s ‘Love Yourself’ (which Sheeran wrote). ‘Sing’ was made for audience participation, and enjoys it’s moment in the limelight. The screens light up with interactive fonts and lyrical animations. ‘Bloodstream’ is accompanied by some very intense dark read images and ‘Perfect’ is delivered before a sea of phone lights. Of course, you can sling mud at music so sentimental, but it’s hard to argue with the resonance. On the latter he tells us about the importance of music to our own personal narratives. “I look out and see 48’000 personal stories that connect to my songs,” he muses, “Each different and personal.” Acknowledgement of the importance of owning your music’s impacts.

He saves the best until last with energetic versions of ‘Shape of You’, ‘Bad Habits’ and an extended ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’, including a rap sequence referencing key moments in his career, rounding off the night.

Sheeran expertly uses his stage, engaging as closely with his audience as he can. Leaning into their souls with his music, he fills the circumference to breaking point, his energy can never be contained – a life force that must reach every ear and every heart in the stadium. You feel it in every note, every strum. Even if you weren’t much of a fan before you can help being swept along. This is his true power.

How does he do it, and yet appear to stay so grounded? He appeals to all Kiwis, it seems, from mums to daughters, to dads, sons, grans and granddads. And they are all here tonight. Everyone, it seems love him. Maybe it’s his boyish charm, the everyman shtick, his ordinary struggling busker’s vibe, Casual Friday clothing and ‘just blessed to be amongst you’ grin. We love his down home presence. He’s so low key he almost wasn’t recognised in a Featherston pub recently. That earns him huge credit in these parts, I can tell ya.

What ever it is, tonight we got a real concert to talk about, sing to and remember.

The month so far has been a nightmare for outdoor venues, with Laneway Festival, Sir Elton and Fatboy Slim as well as many other more local festivals all severely impacted by the weather gods. So, it was just fabulous to be out under the stars singing at the top of our voices, making good memories watching a mad Englishman jump around to songs he’s made with foot pedals, a guitar and a whole lot of heart. Our boy Ed did good tonight. That’s for sure.

Were you there at Sky Stadium for this super-sized pop show? Or have you seen Ed Sheeran perform live somewhere else? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Setlist:
  1. Tides
  2. BLOW
  3. I’m a Mess
  4. Shivers
  5. The A Team
  6. Castle on the Hill
  7. Don’t / No Diggity
  8. I See Fire
  9. Visiting Hours
  10. Own It / PERU / Beautiful People / I Don’t Care
  11. Overpass Graffiti
  12. Galway Girl
  13. Celestial
  14. Thinking Out Loud
  15. Love Yourself [Justin Bieber]
  16. Sing
  17. Perfect
  18. Bloodstream
  19. Afterglow
  20. Shape of You [encore]
  21. Bad Habits [encore]
  22. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You [encore]

Note: Ambient Light was provided passes to review this concert. As always, this has not influenced the review in any way and the opinions expressed are those of Ambient Light’s only. This post contains an affiliate link. If you purchase a product using an affiliate link, Ambient Light will automatically receive a small commission at no cost to you.

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