Ed Sheeran has named all his albums after mathematic symbols so it is fitting that he should use his 3Arena show to share some facts and figures. This is his tenth gig at the venue – and it comes 10 years after his first. He adds that Ireland “got him first”.
“I always get mad excited coming to Ireland,” he says. “Ireland embraced me the quickest.”
Sheeran and his Irish audience have been locked in a tight hug ever since. He filled Croke Park twice last summer and now he’s back for a more “intimate” tour featuring less celebrated moments from his catalogue (just so nobody is spooked he adds that he will be playing the smashes too).
He’s full of vim, which might be considered a surprise. Sheeran is gearing up to release his rawest album yet in Divide, which bears the impeccable alternative pop touch of producer Aaron Dessner (who previously worked his austere magic on Taylor Swift).
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Divide is, by all accounts, Sheeran’s long dark night of the soul record. It was recorded at a time of personal upheaval, including his wife Cherry receiving a cancer diagnosis. There was also the sudden death of his friend Jamal Edwards, the subject of new single Eyes Closed. He’s still getting used to singing it without breaking down sobbing he explains (sounding like he’s about to break down sobbing).
It’s just Sheeran, an acoustic guitar and some loop pedals. Yet he’s an astute showman and wins the crowd over with hokey, if warmly-intentioned, called-and-response routines. Perhaps he’s overcompensating for a set that orbits more overlooked moments from his catalogue, including UNI, an oldie that is spliced into 2021 single Overpass Graffiti.
Sheeran is a tidy songwriter. But perhaps his greatest gift is self-awareness. “I’ve never been cool,” he says, sharing an anecdote about meeting the creator of the Pokémon video game while touring Japan.
This leads to a story about Lord of the Ring director Peter Jackson contacting him out of the blue with a request that he fly to New Zealand immediately. Sheeran assumed that Jackson wanted to cast him as a Hobbit. “He’d heard about my challenging height.”
In fact, Jackson was eager for Sheeran to compose the closing theme to the second entry in his Hobbit trilogy. Sheeran reveals that this gave him pause: he wasn’t Enya was he? But he went ahead and did it anyway, and the song he wrote, I See Fire, is a decent stab at Middle Earth magic.
He bashes it out at 3Arena, accompanied by footage of snarling, spewing lava. It’s a testament to Sheeran that he turns something as unpromising as a song about Hobbits into a cauldron of red-hot pop.