The + – = ÷ x Tour Review: Ed Sheeran Perfects His Equation
FYNN REVIEWS ED SHEERAN’S FIRST NOSTALGIC NIGHT OF RETROSPECTION AND CELEBRATION IN THE ROUND AT ACCOR STADIUM, 24/02/2023.
Before you read on, allow me to disclose my stance: I am an Ed Sheeran fan (yes, they exist). I’ve loved Teddy’s songwriting since ‘I See Fire’ played over the credits of The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2014. Ed Sheeran was one of the first of many artists whose discography I scoured through and committed to memory. I learned guitar so I could play all of the songs from ‘Multiply’. I bonded with one of my best friends over our shared love for Ed Sheeran while setting up the chairs for Wednesday morning assembly. ‘Divide’ had a heavy presence on the soundtrack to my formative early teens.
Accordingly, my chances of having much negative to say about Ed Sheeran’s recent performance in Sydney are low. However, The + – = ÷ x (apparently pronounced Mathematics) Tour exceeded all my expectations. From the stellar support lineup, elaborate stage, and career-spanning setlist, the show deservingly earned the title of the best stadium concert I’ve seen.
Continuing Sheeran’s tradition of having local artists open for him, Coodjinburra singer-songwriter Budjerah, from the Bundjalung nation, opened the night. Featuring on a remix of Sheeran’s rap tune ‘2step’, Budjerah was a seamless fit for the Australian run of the tour. Budjerah proved that he is paving the path to becoming a star in his own right, not seeming at all out of place on the grand stadium stage. It was easy to forget you were waiting for a headliner with the 21-year-old’s earnest charisma and rich vocals. The highlight of Budjerah’s set was easily his latest single, ‘Therapy’, a track embodying the frustration of a hopeless relationship. By the time Budjerah left the stage, I was thrilled to be seeing him perform all over again the very next day at For The Love festival in Wollongong.
At the numerous merchandise stalls surrounding Accor Stadium, a simple t-shirt was sold that read, “I came for Ed Sheeran; I left with Maisie Peters”. Oh, how wonderfully self-aware (and accurate) this design is! Peters gained a fan in the form of myself (and surely many, many more), electrifying the stadium with her set of sparkly but brutally vulnerable pop-rock anthems. It isn’t difficult to see why Sheeran recruited the British singer-songwriter for his Gingerbread Records label with her analogous specialty for seamless storytelling. The Taylor Swift vibes were strong, but Peters set herself apart, creeping singles ‘Not Another Rockstar’ and ‘Body Better’ into the plethora of Ed Sheeran bangers stuck in my head days after the show. Maisie Peter’s energy was intoxicating, evidently having the time of her life either strumming her guitar or running around the revolving stage.
By the time the sun set, the large cylindrical screen hanging above the stage began its gradual descent over the stage, commencing the countdown. The crowd chanted, “Three, Two, One”, and the veil was lifted to the sound of heavy acoustic strums. “I have grown up; I am a father now. Everything has changed, but I am still the same somehow”, Sheeran addresses the crowd through the opening lines of ‘Tides’, filling them in on what he’s been up to in the six years since he last performed at Sydney’s largest stadium. Keeping up the thrill, Sheeran transitions into rock & roll ‘BLOW’, a 2019 collaboration with Chris Stapleton and Bruno Mars.
Unlike his previous tours, Sheeran is now accompanied by a band, with each member stationed on platforms around the centre stage. However, Ed proves he is “still the same somehow” as the band steps back, allowing him to play classics ‘I’m A Mess’ and ‘The A Team’ with nothing but his signature acoustic guitar and loop pedal. The band joins the performance for less than half of the set, allowing Sheeran to shine with the stripped-back one-man show he’s known for whilst electrifying certain songs such as ‘Castle On The Hill’ and ‘Overpass Graffiti’.
Sheeran is, at his core, a masterclass storyteller, evoking his pub gig roots through monologues contextualising songs. Whether explaining how Australian listeners launched his international career by embracing ‘The A Team’, or how his visit to Japan resulted in Pokémon collaboration ‘Celestial’, Sheeran made each song feel personal. Despite the sheer size of the stadium and its high level of production (there were theatrics and pyrotechnics when appropriate), the evening felt somewhat intimate. Perhaps that’s because Sheeran was positioned in the centre of the crowd with a revolving Hamilton-esque stage that ensured he faced everyone. Perhaps, that’s because it was mostly just one man on stage with only his guitar and his heart on his sleeve. Or perhaps it was simply because I was in the sixth row. Regardless, wherever ticket holders were seated, the show was an optical treat with giant suspended guitar pick-shaped screens, illuminating spires and beautifully dynamic animations.
The rare inclusion of ‘I See Fire’ on the set was a personal triumph, complete with The Lord of the Rings-themed visuals on screen. However, many who were there would doubtlessly cite Irish folk-inspired, ‘Galway Girl’, as the highlight of their night, with musician Tina Hizon joining Sheeran to strut around the stage whilst playing the violin with seemingly infinite vigour. Although the crowd, (unsurprisingly) consisting predominantly of families and middle-aged couples, was disappointingly calm over the course of the night, this particular song lit up the crowd with its irresistible merriment.
Exploring rollercoaster themes of love, heartbreak, childhood, parenthood, life, and loss, the Mathematics Tour holistically spanned each era of Ed Sheeran’s career, not missing any key tenets of his discography. The only notable exclusion was ‘2step’, a personal favourite from Sheeran’s latest 2021 album, = (Equals), which would have provided an incredible opportunity for Budjerah to join him on stage for a duet.
Alas, Sheeran drove the show home with a relentlessly upbeat encore consisting of huge chart toppers, ‘Shape of You’ and ‘Bad Habits’ before unreservedly sticking the landing with a ten-minute version of the fast-paced ‘You Need Me, I Don’t Need You’ from his 2011 debut album. Once the loop is built up, Sheeran spends the final ten minutes of the night running circles around the stage at considerable speed, clad in an “Aways Was, Always Will Be” t-shirt and pride flag. Witnessing Sheeran spitting rapid-fire, complex verses whilst doing what must have been a workout unto itself, It’s impossible not to be taken aback. The concert concluded with the well-deserved fanfare of fireworks, appropriate for the truly epic scale of the night.
Ed Sheeran’s show is nothing short of impressive. Although it is easy to bag him out for simple chord progressions and a seemingly endless supply of arguably overplayed radio hits, the man is undeniably one of the most talented people in the industry. Whether you love him or hate him, you simply must see Ed Sheeran live on stage at some point in your life. Emotional, romantic, and triumphant, The + – = ÷ x Tour is a testament to the beauty in life and the power of music to elucidate it.
The first single from Ed Sheeran’s fifth studio album, ‘Eyes Closed’, is out today.
The final “mathematics” album, ‘- (Subtract)’, will be released May 5th, 2023.