Ed Sheeran leaves fans wanting more at The Palace

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Ed Sheeran is a superstar.

The English singer-songwriter effortlessly won over a crowd of screaming fans at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Wednesday night, the biggest local concert the 23-year-old has headlined . And he did it all by himself: He was alone on stage, armed with only a guitar and some floor pedals he used to loop his voice and make beats. There were no backup singers, no band, no hype man.

Sheeran didn’t need them. He’s a one-man army.

Over the course of his one-hour, 45-minute concert, Sheeran showed why he’s one of the best performers working today. He sang, led the crowd in singalongs and rapped as quickly and as breathlessly as Eminem, only Sheeran didn’t need a backing track or someone there doubling his words.

He walked on stage with the confidence of a leader and he left while the crowd was still singing back the chorus to his song “Sing.” In between he poured his heart out in ballads; sang sweet, lilting love songs; teed off on an ex- or two; and ad-libbed a few good lines with the crowd. When a fan ran on stage and joined him while he sang “You Need Me,” he didn’t miss a beat, and let out a chuckle as security whisked her away.

From the time he took the stage, the excitement in the arena was palpable. Sheeran didn’t fill The Palace, he only played to a lower-bowl crowd, and there were empty seats in the back of the arena. But to his rabid fans, he is everything: a poet, a friend, a heartthrob. Sheeran has an approachability that sets him apart from today’s chiseled supermen; on “Take It Back” he jokes, “I’m a singer that you never wanna see shirtless.” But that didn’t stop the screams. During “Give Me Love,” he asked the crowd to be his choir, but the shouts of “I love you” and “Marry me!” kept interrupting the session. “If this was an actual choir,” Sheeran said, “you guys would be doing a terrible job.” (Cue more screams.)

Most of the night’s songs found Sheeran alternating between two microphones, tinkering with his foot pedals and building a beat he would loop and play with — stopping it, starting it, stopping it again — throughout the song. Occasionally, he moved the microphones aside and jumped on top of his monitors and engaged the crowd, rapping in breathless flows that would impress any hip-hop fan. (The black and white Air Jordan 5s on his feet helped up his hip-hop cred.) A series of video screens behind him gave the show some visual flair, and only betrayed him once, when clips from the second “Hobbit” movie played behind “I See Fire.” (Yes, the song was written for the film, but the movie scenes were out of place in a show that otherwise existed only in the space between Sheeran and his fans.)

“Detroit, how you feelin?” Sheeran asked early in the night. He then broke down the night to its most simple elements: “My name is Ed,” he said, “and my job for the next two hours is to entertain you.”

Easy enough, and he did his job, occasionally slipping pieces of other popular pop hits (Chris Brown’s “Loyal” and Blackstreet’s “No Diggity” during “Don’t,” Backstreet Boys’ “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” during “Run Away”) into his songs.

Over the summer, Sheeran’s second album “x” (pronounced “multiply”) debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top 200 albums chart. As album sales dwindle, it’s a statistic that matters less and less, and unless you’re an avid follower of pop music, you might not know any of Sheeran’s songs. But he’s a rock star, and Wednesday night at The Palace he was on fire. His model for fame is the current model for success: Cultivate an audience, cater to that audience and leave them wanting more. Sheeran’s audience is lucky its got a superstar delivering them the goods.

And deliver he did, with the swagger of a guy who will be around for a while.