Ed Sheeran may be the hottest male pop star of the moment, but, in concert, he is just one guy with a guitar, two microphones and a looping device.
Sure, he’s No. 1 on Billboard’s album chart this week, but he’s not too big to croon the first dance at the wedding of Justin Bieber’s manager on Sunday or entertain 800 lucky KS95 radio listeners Monday at the Varsity Theater in Minneapolis before he heads to Europe for several music festivals.
At 23, Sheeran came across Monday as supremely confident, but also as likable as he is talented. Like a busker gone wild, he pulls off this one-man band bit with seamless aplomb. The second microphone is to record his own background vocals, which he then loops; he also uses effects pedals to loop rhythms and thus create a fuller sound.
But really it’s the passion and style of his vocalizing that make him so convincing. A Brit, he is equal parts Eminem, Van Morrison, Sting and Taylor Swift, his BFF with whom he toured in 2013. At the Varsity, he manifested two styles of singing — a fast hip-hop flow like a singing Eminem or a soulful Irish croon a la Morrison, with whom he shares a tousled mop of red hair begging for a barber. And, like Sting, he loves to insert wordless singalong sections (“oh, oh, oh — oh”) that will go over in any country no matter what language is spoken.
To open his hourlong performance, Sheeran went off on a nearly 15-minute hip-hop journey, “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You.” He also got angry on “Don’t,” but then he got romantic on the soft croon of “Give Me Love.” “Thinking Out Loud” was his closest thing to a straightforward pop song, and “I’m a Mess” was his most passionate vocal. He saved his hits for last: the ever-pretty “The A Team” and the current “Sing,” a falsetto-spiked Justin Timberlake funk that he promised the fans would still be singing in the car on the way home and when they get up in the morning.
Sheeran will be singing it again in Minneapolis on Sept. 15 in front of a much bigger crowd at Target Center.
Also appearing Monday was Magic!, a Toronto quartet whose easygoing reggae groove sometimes stifled the soulfulness of vocalist Nasri (Matthew) Atweh, even on the current smash “Rude.”