Live: Ed Sheeran Rubs Elbows With The Crowd At Mercury Lounge

edsheeran_january31.jpg
Benjamin Lozovsky
ALSO: See more photos from Ed Sheeran's show at Mercury Lounge
Ed Sheeran
Mercury Lounge
Monday, January 30

Better than: Finding a Sugababes album in the 99-cent bin.

British pop stars have had something of a rough go when trying to break America, despite often working with much better material than much of what's on the charts over here. The sacking of poor Cheryl Cole from The X Factor in favor of the personality void that is Nicole Scherzinger is but one of the recent examples of Brits getting the short shrift; the runaway success of Adele could be seen as kind of an exception to this rule. (And even then she's an outlier; her songs are slower than much of pop radio's neon-hued, club-ready offerings.)

The latest Brit to attempt a crossover to this side of the Atlantic is Ed Sheeran, a young redhead with a penchant for hip-hop and a knack for writing lyrics that distill stories to their essence. Last night he played the Mercury Lounge armed with just an acoustic guitar, a bunch of looping pedals, and, most importantly, a goofy yet self-possessed charisma that had him quoting Lil Kim two songs into his set, splitting up the crowd for a successful singalong on the next song, and ending the night in the middle of the crowd, spinning around and singing while standing on a chair and holding the audience rapt.

To say that his New York debut was an unqualified success might be a bit premature; the crowd at last night's show was a bit self-selected, with British accents and unprompted singing along thrown into the mix of noise, and quite a few up-and-comers from the UK and these shores have been adored by the on-the-list cognoscenti in New York and greeted with utter blankness outside this city's cozy confines. But it was a fun, entertaining show, and there was a glimmer of something special about it. Sheeran's blend of self-possession and humility—telling stories that sometimes went nowhere and other times flowed right into his songs, sassing back at a heckler who asked him to play an Oasis song (seriously?), going from soft, tender croon to rapidfire spitting—made me think he could, maybe, find a home in this country's pop world, perhaps somewhere alongside his labelmate Jason Mraz. (There's certainly a market for attractive white male singers who sing softly and wield big guitars; just look at the recent run of American Idol results.)

Sheeran performed utterly solo last night, looping his guitar and his voice as accompaniment; it made for a much more appealing sonic atmosphere than those found on the recorded versions of his songs, which at their worst can list toward Lite-FM mush. It certainly foregrounded his appreciation of hip-hop—as did the snippets of Lil Kim, 50 Cent, and Damian Marley that he threw into the mix—and his expert use of the setup, which he twirled and fiddled with like it was actually an appendage that he'd had use of all his life. Sonically, the loops (and singalongs) contrasted nicely with the last three songs, which he performed in the crowd and without his pedals or any amplification; among the set-closing selections was the Irish end-of-the-night standard "The Parting Glass," which highlighted the delicate timbre of his voice and (perhaps inadvertently although given Sheeran's overall composure probably deliberately) married folk traditions old and new as the crowd, respectfully, stayed quiet.

Critical bias: Only knew him as a popular British dude until I heard his Yelawolf collab last week. And, you know, when your live show reminds me of Patrick Stump and tUnE-yArDs...

Overheard: "It was 52, not 53."—someone refuting Sheeran's onstage claim that he once stuck 53 Malteasers in his mouth.

Random notebook dump: Hope nobody sees his homage to Lil Kim as an inadvertent Nicki Minaj dis.

Set list:
Give Me Love
Grade 8
Homeless
Wayfaring Stranger
You & I
Small Bump
Kiss Me
The City
Lego House
You Need Me, I Don't Need You / In The Club / Welcome To Jamrock
--
The Parting Glass
Guiding Light
A Team

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10 comments
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Casenewcomb
Casenewcomb

I saw the Stones in 65, the Beatles in 65, I saw Cream 7 nights in a row two shows a night in 1968, I saw Led Zeppelins first concert in Amerca in 68, I saw Jefferson Airplane in a tiny coffee house. I saw The Who in a club, this list could fill ten pages. Tonight I saw Ed Sheeran at the Hotel Cafe and it was one of the best shows I have ever seen, His command of the audience, his sensitivity, his dynamics, his range, his lyrics, Ed Sheeran is a true artists.

Math Professor
Math Professor

I was there the next night.  He was amazing.  There was one heckler in the crowd, some drunk British guy, but the VAST majority of people there were seemingly New Yorkers (although I drove down from RI just because I'm crazy about Ed.)  After the show, he hung out for pictures, and was genuinely so sweet.  Talked to everyone.  Thanked us all for coming to the show.  Just made me fall in love with him all over again.

Can't wait to see him again in April when he comes to Boston with Snow Patrol!

Rosie Siman
Rosie Siman

I thought the show was perfect, minus the incredibly obnoxious photographer, Ben Lozovsky, whose photo you used above. When did music photographers lose respect for the music? 

sheirlyelisa
sheirlyelisa

Hmm. . .Looks every oneenjoy Ed Sheeran performance. I love the set list alos. :) Its very nice visit for me in your blog. Thanks.

Jawny_Mitchell
Jawny_Mitchell

I don't know how old the person that wrote this review was..but I'm pretty sure if you you bring up Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix etc..he or she wouldn't know what we were talking about.

Casenewcomb
Casenewcomb

I don't know how old the person that wrote this review was..but I'm pretty sure if you you bring up Blind Willie Nelson etc..he or she wouldn't know what we were talking about.(By the way Ed dropped a Blackstreet song right out tha gate..sorry if you thought it was mainstream hip hop..but yer wrong!)Ed has the unique sensibility I've been craving for in music for ALONG time.His style has the ability to blend folk roots with with modern day music that the common person can digest.May many follow his path...

maura
maura

Don't you mean Blind Willie Johnson? If you're going to be a pedant... 

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