If you aren’t aware of the force of Ed Sheeran, wait a few days. Chances are, it will introduce itself to you whether you’re willing or not.
Sheeran will turn 22 on Feb. 17. On Feb. 10, he will perform with Elton John at the Grammy Awards, where he also is a nominee for song of the year. His resume includes lucrative collaborations with Taylor Swift and the British boy band One Direction. It also includes his only studio album, “+,” released in September 2011, which includes the single “The A Team,” his biggest hit in this country and the song up for the big Grammy award.
Sunday night, Sheeran headlined a show a the Midland theater, and he sold out the place. More than 2,500 people showed up for what was essentially a solo show: Sheeran with acoustic guitar. He had no backup band, just a bank of four dozen or so 3-foot-square video screens, which blared plenty of visual distractions and embellishments, and all the gadgets he needed to loop vocals and other instrumental/musical background sounds for his pop and folk tunes.
If it all sounds lackluster on paper, well, you had to be there. The guy may look unassuming — a shaggy mop of disheveled red hair, T-shirt, blue jeans and whatever athletic shoes he favors — but he can whip a big crowd into a state of obedience and fervor with an uncanny ease. Maybe it’s the British accent and vernacular, which add a coat of charm and levity to his unwavering enthusiasm.
Whatever it was, he was able to choreograph some impressive sing-alongs and crowd-participation exercises several times. None topped the raucous sing-along he orchestrated for the chorus to “Be My Husband,” a song made famous by Nina Simone.
Sheeran’s voice has an appealing soul flavor, one that sounds strongly like Tracy Chapman’s but slightly deeper. It serves his songs well. They tend to be a well-crafted blend of pop, folk and soul. Most are about love and romance, which might explain why his audience is primarily female. Every now and then, Sheeran veered into rap/hip-hop, but even that was on the pop/soul side of the street.
The centerpiece of his show was the 10-minute “You Don’t Need Me, I Don’t Need You,” which showcased his guitar skills and vocal range. For a change of pace, the British rap duo the Rizzle Kicks, one of the opening acts, bounded onstage (in Royals jerseys) during that number and delivered some vocals. For the love ballad “Sofa,” Sheeran was joined by his other opener, Foy Vance, a singer/songwriter from Northern Ireland.
“Husband” wasn’t Sheeran’s only cover. He also delivered a cover of “Wayfaring Stranger” that was more adventurous than it was interesting. And one of his encores honored his Irish heritage: a nearly a cappella version of “The Parting Glass.”
He closed with his big hit, “The A Team,” which sent into another orbit a crowd that was wound up and ready to indulge from the moment he lit the fuse on “Give Me Love,” his opener.
Sheeran spent a good part of the night standing on a riser at the front of the stage, playing crowd director and cheerleader. He was preaching to a choir that was excessively cheery and willing to play along, one that hushed itself for the “quiet songs,” as he called them, and raised its voices for the others.
Yes, something’s happening here, and it’s pretty clear what it is. A star has been ignited, and chances are you’ll notice it, whether you’re looking for it or not.
Setlist: Give Me Love; Drunk; U.N.I.; Grade 8; Wayfaring Stranger; Small Bump; Be My Husband; Kiss Me; Sofa; Wake Me Up; Lego House; You Need Me, I Don’t Need You; Gold Rush; The Parting Glass; The A Team.