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Ed Sheeran’s musical arithmetic scores in India

For a really long while, the only musician known to this writer with an Ed in his name was Eddie Van Halen. However, in 2015, that all changed while being invited by a friend and his son to attend Ed Sheeran’s first concert in India, held on March 1, 2015 at Mumbai’s Mahalaxmi Race Course.

After nine years, once again on an invitation from a friend, history repeated itself as Sheeran brought his ‘+–=÷× (Mathematics) tour‘ to India on March 16 this year, yet again in Mumbai (his third visit here, following another appearance in 2017). Opening the evening’s proceedings were Prateek Kuhad and Calum Scott, but it was obvious that the opening acts were not the ones that most of the audience wanted to see and, as the circular screen above the stage began its ten-minute countdown ending at 7.30pm and, just as the sky achieved its twilight too, it also became the entry point for the moment that everyone was awaiting for: Ed Sheeran appearing onto the specially constructed circular stage with one part allowing it to revolve, and began singing the guitar-heavy “Tides”, the first track off his fifth studio album, ‘=’, released in 2021. It was followed by “Blow”, both featuring a back-up band consisting of four musicians with each member stationed on a lower platform.

Sheeran soon moved onto a solo interlude, utilizing a loop station consisting of a set of pedals where Sheeran recorded beats, a bass line, background vocals, and piano on a loop that played consistently throughout the entirety of each song, along with Sheeran’s ever changing guitars across virtually every song.

While running through “I’m A Mess” and “Shivers”, Sheeran took a little time out to share an anecdote about the beginnings of his musical journey as a performing artist, saying that he would attend open mics in the UK with patrons at the venues turning their backs on him, and Sheeran waiting for that one song which would make that welcome change in his career, like “The A Team”, which he performed next. Sheeran also conveyed his gratitude to the audience saying that, without them, he would never be where he is now.

Once through with this segment, ending with “Dive”, it was time for Sheeran’s back up band to join again for his next selection, ‘2step’, from Sheeran’s 2021 album, “=“ (Equals), which was released with additional “global remixes”, providing an incredible journey for Armaan Malik, who duetted on the “original” from India, to join Sheeran live on stage with the duo concluding their joint musical venture by striking the classic Shah Rukh Khan pose of arms outstretched. Some of the other songs in this set included “Galway Girl”, with obvious influences of Irish traditional music, supported by captivating violin playing by a musician named Alisha, who strutted around the stage with vigour, with the song containing a befitting opening line, “She played the fiddle in an Irish band”. The segment ended with “Thinking Out Loud”, the melody on the guitar described by Sheeran in the past as  “very Van-like”, referring to Van Morrison and, with it, supporting Sheeran’s continuing Irish musical influences.

Returning to his solo avatar, Ed Sheeran went onto singing his co-written song with Justin Bieber, “Love Yourself”, followed by the sing-along by the audience on the appropriately titled “Sing”, but it was the surprise appearance of Diljit Dosanjh, wherein the duo rendered a striking rendition of Diljit’s hit song, “Lover”, unexpectedly yet sung flawlessly in Punjabi by Sheeran. At the end of the song’s performance, Diljit said, “Give it up for Ed Sheeran” in his mother tongue, fondly acknowledging Sheeran’s appreciation of the Indian audience.

With songs such as “Perfect”, “Bloodstream” (containing gory audio-visuals), and “Afterglow” ended the segment with Sheeran going off stage and, after a brief minute-long interval, he returned for an encore of sorts by running through “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You”, followed by the exceptionally memorable “Shape Of You”, and the energetic “Bad Habits” that ended the concert of two and a half hours about 10pm.

Despite the sheer size of the venue and its high level of production (supported by pyrotechnics), the evening consisted of an audience built across school-going children to senior citizens, with several having travelled from other parts of India to witness music history. With Sheeran positioned in the centre of the crowd with a 360-degree circular, revolving stage which ensured that he faced everyone present, resulted in a show that certainly was an optical treat, surrounded by four giant guitar pick-shaped screens, illuminating spires, and mostly effective animation. The concert concluded with the well-deserved fanfare of streamers shot into the crowd from the top of the circular roof of the stage, most appropriate for the truly epic scale of the night where general admission tickets were priced at Rs 9,500, while the deck tickets offering an elevated experience priced at Rs 16,000.

As a consummate performer, Ed Sheeran was clothed in a black tee with “Mumbai” prominently displayed at the front and at the back, and effectively showcased what a performance should be with the perfect selection of diverse songs that had the 50,000+ audience periodically participate in sing-alongs, surprise guest appearances, energetic showmanship, and an audio-visual treat; but all this would not have been possible without appreciating Sheeran’s physical endurance, backing the versatility of his songwriting.

Ed Sheeran, back when this writer first saw him in 2015, performed as a stripped-back one-man band then and was still maturing into what would eventually become an industry with only two albums to boast at that time: “+” (2011), and “×” (2014). While the venue remained Mumbai’s race course, it was located at a small area cordoned off near one of the member stands. While the audience would have been closer to five thousand then, it mainly consisted of an age group of girls ranging between 12 to 18, clothed largely in black, who sang along with every song that Sheeran performed and, in the short gaps in between, screamed away. Parents were parked at the entrance/exits to maintain the kind of privacy that adolescents prefer, when it certainly took only a fraction then of the 45 minutes required to enter the venue, and an hour to exit, like this time around…

Sheeran has sold more than 150 million albums worldwide, making him one of the world’s best-selling music artists, and two of his albums are listed in the all-time best-selling albums in UK chart history. In December 2019, the Official Charts Company, in the UK, named him artist of the decade and, in April 2022, Ed Sheeran was the most followed artist on Spotify. An alumnus of the National Youth Theatre in London, Sheeran’s acting roles include appearing in the fab 2019 film that was an ode to the music of The Beatles, ‘Yesterday’, where Sheeran played himself, providing lead actor Himesh Patel, as Jack Malik, an invitation to be his opening act in Moscow.

Ed Sheeran’s ‘The Mathematics Tour’ featured virtually every genre one could imagine: from rock to hip-hop, folk to pop, and love ballads to head bangers, and it was apparent that all those who attended the concert left with a smile and a memory. During the concert, Ed Sheeran announced a pan-India tour next year. With that, the message was clear for those who missed this concert: miss the next tour at your own musical peril!



Ed Sheeran indicative setlist (click here to open it on Spotify):

  • Full Band
    1. Tides
    2. BLOW
  • Solo
    3. I’m a Mess
    4. Shivers
    5. The A Team
    6. Castle on the Hill
    7. Don’t / No Diggity
    8. Lego House
    9. Eyes Closed
    10. Give Me Love
    11. Dive
  • Full Band
    12. American Town
    13. 2Step (with Armaan Malik)
    14. Overpass Graffiti
    15. Galway Girl
    16. Thinking Out Loud
  • Solo
    17. Love Yourself (Justin Bieber cover co-written by Ed Sheeran)
    18. Sing
    19. Photograph
    20. Tenerife Sea
    21. Happier
    22. Lover (Diljit Dosanjh cover with Diljit Dosanjh)
    23. Perfect
    24. Bloodstream
    25. Afterglow
  • Encore
    26. You Need Me, I Don’t Need You
    27. Shape of You
    28. Bad Habits
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