GLENDALE -- For most of the night Sunday, the 17,000-plus in the Jobing.com Arena sang so loudly they threatened to drown out headliner Ed Sheeran.
But for one instance, Sheeran asked them to allow him to sing alone for the heart wrenching ballad “Afire Love.” And in that instance, all those people standing in every square inch of floor space and filling almost all of the seats except for the ones in the high rafters kept eerily silent, adding a deeply personal resonance to an emotional song about the loss of Sheeran’s grandfather.
The song was one of the most poignant moments of a night filled with unimaginably loud and exuberant music-making from the stage and the audience. Perhaps most unimaginable of all was how Sheeran, playing a handful of electrified acoustic guitars and working the controls of a recorded soundtrack with a foot pedal managed to create a sound that filled the arena. On every song, -- “I’m A Mess,” “Lego House,” “Runaway,” “Give Me Love,” “Drunk,” “ One,” “Thinking Out Loud,” “Don’t” -- he sounded as if he was backed by a full band. You could feel the percussion, produced at times from him thumping the body of his guitar and other times pre-recorded, in the pit of your stomach and consuming you from toe to top. It was electrifying.
Sheeran’s vulnerable tenor was given a workout Sunday night, from his groundbreaking debut single “The A Team” to his midtempo ballad “Tenerife Sea” and the bluesy “I See Fire.” By the time he got to the three-song encore, you found yourself wishing the night was not nearly over as he blasted out the rap for “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.” When he came to the final chorus of “Sing,” he encouraged the audience to sing it on the way out of the arena, sing it in the car and sing it at home. We were still signing as he quietly slipped off stage and the arena lights came on.
Sheeran’s Glendale show comes more than 18 months after his first and last Tucson show at the Rialto Theatre. Fans had camped out on Congress Street in front of the theater for hours before the doors opened.
And Sunday night, many of those same fans made the trip to Glendale to see him in a much larger setting. But some things were the same; the line outside the arena snaked around the building and wound its way back toward the parking lot. A good portion of those fans, many sporting homemade T-shirts with “X” – the name of his sophomore album – had waited since early afternoon to get inside.
There was a reason they waited; no one had assigned seats in the arena. It was all general assignment seating, although earlybirds who bought their tickets in the pre-sale or in the minutes after they went on sale, did manage to get a spot in the front of section of the floor. Which meant that if you ran through the arena and got there early, you could plant yourself a few rows of bodies in front of the stage, a perfect spot to see the sweat fall off the ginger-haired Englishman. But that perfect spot soon became not so perfect as dozens of the mostly teen girls squeezed and pushed their way to the front in the moments before the nine-member English pop/hip-hop/reggae band Rudimental took the stage.
Rudimental is with Sheeran throughout his American tour, which stretches through this month. In an interview in late August, Sheeran said he plans to record an album with them in 2015, and after seeing them live, it’s easy to see the attraction for Sheeran. Rudimental shakes up genres much in the way Sheeran does, dipping into blues, pure pop and spicing things up with hip-hop. They were terrifically talented and fabulously fun and the only disappointment was that they were on stage for only 30 minutes. It will be nice to see them in the headliner slot some day.