Ed Sheeran impresses 40,000 Belfast fans at Boucher Playing Fields as not even the rain can dampen spirits

Ed Sheeran gave a musicality lesson when his world math tour (+–=÷x) landed in Boucher Playing Fields, Belfast, on Thursday night with 40,000 people braving the rain to see him perform.

much discussion went into its unique, 360-degree arena-style staging the likes of which the city had never seen before – a rotating podium, which he described as “like Yo Sushi” ensured that every inch of the crowd was catered for, with impressive pick-shaped projections reminding us that this is a man more at ease with his guitar in hand.

Opening with a new song, ‘Tides’, Ed was greeted in Belfast with deafening cheer. Having last played the city in 2018, he suddenly appeared with a quick, “Belfast, how do we feel tonight!?”

He later told the crowd to “look excited” as they were being recorded for the Billboard Music Awards.

Colorful explosions and pyrotechnics fired from the unique staging, Sheeran standing confidently in a simple black T-shirt with the word “Belfast” proudly displayed on the back.

A four-piece backing band added extra weight for an electric overture, before Ed settled into the comfort of his five loop pedals, which he explained he uses to build his own backing tracks is no small feat.

Although supported by a recent number one album, this tour, which is named after all of his previous albums, is a greatest hits performance for Sheeran.

Singing, rapping and strumming your biggest tracks – it’s not until you hear these songs together in a cohesive playlist that you can start to appreciate the breadth and breadth of your talent.

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Ed Sheeran performs during math tour at Boucher Road Playing Fields on May 12, 2022 (Photo by Kevin Scott for Belfast Telegraph)

Sheeran initially rose to prominence in the London street scene, sharing a strong connection with the city’s emerging Grime genre. He regularly appeared on the late Jamal Edwards’ YouTube channel SBTV mixing folk, pop and rap in his earlier songs – themes that continue to this day, albeit in small doses.

These days he’s more at home alongside some of the biggest DJs in the world producing what is, admittedly, commercial pop with, at times, a smart twist.

An excited crowd enthusiastically sang some of the decade’s biggest hits: ‘The A Team’, ‘Castle on the Hill’ and ‘Thinking out Loud’ – all reminders of this artist’s impressive career to date.

One of the most exciting parts of a live music experience is watching your idol play music outside of their comfort zone. Beyoncé’s rendition of Prince’s ‘The Beautiful One’ and Kings of Leon’s ‘Sex on Fire’ at 2011’s Glastonbury is a perfect example.

Belfast was not presented with an exhibition as Sheeran covered Blackstreet’s ‘No Diggity’ for what appears to be the hundredth time. A safe, well-versed version that many Sheeran fans have tried before – impressive, but far from groundbreaking.

There’s no denying Ed’s connection to our emerald isle – both of his grandparents are from here. While ‘Galway Girl’ has become a global anthem for the Irish diaspora, in domestic soil, it can sometimes seem like a novelty.

Cheese or not, audiences love it and it’s with its immersive, rhythmic storytelling that Sheeran remains undeniably Celtic.

The latest singles ‘Bad Habits’ and ‘Shivers’ were once the soundtrack to all the awkward, socially-distanced cab rides last summer – dance music at a time when nightclubs were inaccessible.

These tracks take on a life of their own when performed in an arena setting where they can be truly heard as intended.

Later in the setlist, ‘Shape of You’ shows Sheeran at his best: an ironic twist, considering that track was never his first choice for a single, no matter how much annoyance it caused him. That said, it’s undeniably captivating and the crowd loves it.

A lively encore saw Ed return to his roots ending with ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’, an early shot for those in the music industry who once doubted his abilities.

With a sold-out tour scheduled for next year, he’s sure to have nothing to worry about these days.

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