It turns out the biggest Bay Area concert of the summer of 2023 was not one of the American female pop powerhouses, but a British singer-songwriter wearing a plain black T-shirt and wielding mastery over a loop pedal and a guitar.
While mega shows by Taylor Swift and Beyoncé have captured the headlines and social media frenzy this summer, Ed Sheeran has been quietly breaking attendance records at those same stadiums on his "Mathematics Tour," largely due to his in-the-round stage design that allowed a 360-degree filling of stadium seats for his two-hour show spectacular.
Ahead of Saturday's show at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, reports were already speculating that, in addition to breaking Swift and Beyonce's attendance records, Sheeran could also be in contention to break Levi's concert attendance record, set in 2015 by the Grateful Dead, of 76,000. The all-time Levi's attendance record of 77,000 was also set in 2015, by WrestleMania.
Regardless of records, Sheeran put on an enthusiastic and energetic show to a packed house that was a highlight tour through his ballads, pop rockers, and hip-hop infused sounds from his six previous albums.
Coming on to the stage with rockets of pyrotechnics following musical openers Maisie Peters and Russ, Sheeran powered through fiery renditions of songs "Tides" and "Blow" to open the show.
Sheeran's in-the-round stage design was a constant highlight and achievement throughout the show, with a spinning outer track of the platform in constant rotation (which Sheeran referred to as a "giant lazy susan") so he could play to all sides of the stadium, in addition to tilted guitar pick-shaped light towers that served as stylized video screens.
While often known to command a stage and full show solo with his looping pedals on which he creates all the beats and backing vocals live, Sheeran this time around enlisted a band for several parts of his concert, including for songs from his album "No.6 Collaborations Project" like "South of the Border" and "I Don't Care."
However, the busker-like charm, solo prowess, and boyishness that initially powered Sheeran to global success were still front and center for a large part of the show, including when he played fan favorites "Thinking Out Loud" and "Perfect", cheekily mentioning that these were the songs "your grandmother knows."
While Sheeran's latest album "-" (pronounced "Subtract") came out only a few months ago, Sheeran's stadium show focused mainly on hits from his first five albums. The introspective album was instead the focus for a more intimate show Friday night at the Fox Theater in Oakland.
However, fans at the stadium show were not left without a few surprises. Opening act Russ returned halfway through the show to join Sheeran on a performance of his song "Are You Entertained," which Sheeran explained he had never performed live before.
And later, Sheeran turned to play "I See Fire," a song from the movie soundtrack "The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug," which hadn't yet been played on the North American leg of the tour, according to Sheeran. In all, Sheeran played more than 20 songs for the Levi's Stadium audience, who cheered and soaked in every moment.
The show wraps up a busy year for Sheeran. In addition to releasing the album "-" in May, Sheeran's next album "Autumn Variations" is set to be released Sept. 29. He is expected to wrap up this leg of "The Mathematics Tour" in November.
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