Singer, songwriter and rapper Ed Sheeran drew a massive Saturday crowd to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival’s Gentilly Stage.
Young women and girls filled much of the red-haired, 24-year-old British performer’s audience. Whenever Sheeran elevated himself above stage level by standing on stage monitors, they screamed. And because they know the words to Sheeran’s songs and raps, they happily sang and rapped the lyrics back to him.
Sheeran performed without a band. That’s quite unusual for Jazz Fest. Local performers, for instance, typically enhance their bands for the festival, adding musicians.
Sheeran played solo with the help of his digital looper pedal. He basically creates his own backup vocals, guitar and rhythm tracks via his foot-operated looper pedal.
Sheeran’s young fans apparently didn’t mind the absence of a band. But any old people at Sheeran’s Jazz Fest show, who weren’t at the Acura stage to see Elton John, may have felt, shall we say, shortchanged.
Sheeran’s headlining show at the Gentilly Stage moved between sensitive, emotional love songs and frenetic hip-hop. “Nina” and “Take It Back,” featuring rapped verses and sung choruses, are examples of the latter.
In “Take It Back,” Sheeran used his guitar as a beatbox, smacking it furiously. His high-velocity rapping didn’t obscure his English accent. He also put his guitar down and, hip-hop style, grabbed a microphone and rapped all over the stage.
Sheeran showed his sensitive singer-songwriter side in the dripping melancholy of “Photograph.”
“Hearing you whisper through the phone, before you come home,” he repeated softly as the song ended.
Another ballad was much happier, and very much in the mold of Van Morrison’s blissfully romantic, classic love songs.
“If anyone is in love with anyone in the audience,” Sheeran said before singing “Thinking Out Loud,” “I want you to grab them by the waist.”
Sheeran is a genuine talent and enormously successful. A band of great musicians, which he probably can afford, and less nonmusical beatboxing and strumming can only enhance his musicality.