Ed Sheeran stood alone onstage and looked out at the 8,000-plus fans assembled before him on Tuesday at the SAP Center in San Jose. The British singer-songwriter-guitarist, who turned 23 in February, seemed amazed by the scene.
"I'm still quite surprised that so many people are interested," said Sheeran, adding that he's only headlined a few arena shows to date.
He'd better get used to it, because it doesn't look like the crowds are going to get any smaller in the near future.
Sheeran is, without a doubt, one of the fastest rising stars in all of popular music. His 2014 sophomore effort, "X," is a massive hit, having topped the charts in the U.S. and several other countries. It's especially popular in Sheeran's native U.K., where "X" spent a staggering eight weeks at No. 1 on the charts -- thus tying Sheeran with singer James Blunt (2005's "Back to Bedlam") for the longest reign by a male artist.
Not bad for a guy who lost this year's best new artist Grammy to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Of course, Sheeran rebounded nicely over this past weekend, topping Eminem, Pharrell Williams and others as "Sing" was named best male video at the MTV Video Music Awards.
Yet, it's not just the sales figures and award nominations that are pushing Sheeran to super stardom. He also plays the fame game surprisingly well, drawing headlines for feuding with Miley Cyrus, appearing in an ALS Ice Bucket Challenge video with Courteney Cox, palling around with Taylor Swift and writing songs for One Direction.
No wonder he's moved up to playing major sports arenas.
The crowd size, however, is just about the only thing that has changed about Sheeran's shows. The thoroughly entertaining gig he delivered at SAP Center was vastly similar to the one I saw him put on last year at the 2,300-capacity Warfield theater in San Francisco.
Sure, he now has some fancy video screens behind him, and another album's worth of material, but he still goes about his business the same way.
"My job is to entertain you for the next two hours," said Sheeran, who uttered basically the same thing at the Warfield. "Your job is to be entertained."
Both sides held up their ends of the deal -- and then some. The crowd numbered some 8,500 strong, but it sounded like there were 85,000 in the building as Sheeran took the stage alone and began playing the new album's "I'm a Mess." The young, mostly female audience was engaged throughout the show, singing along in high-pitched voices as Sheeran rolled out such fan favorites as "Lego House" and "Drunk" (both from 2011's multi-million-selling debut "+").
Sheeran performed solo throughout the show, holding our attention with just his versatile voice, acoustic guitar work, fine sense of humor and some 21st century high-tech wizardry. As far as the latter goes, Sheeran utilizes "live loops" technology as well as anyone I've ever seen. He uses foot pedals to record himself playing a short guitar or vocal part, then plays it back as he moves on to record the next segment. He gets several of these "loops" going at once, synchronized so that it sounds like a full band is playing live onstage. It's confusing to explain, but awesome to witness.
Sheeran saved his best for last, closing out the roughly two-hour show with a marathon take on "You Need Me, I Don't Need You" before hitting the jackpot with "Gold Rush" and then delivering fine renditions of his two best-known songs -- "The A Team" and "Sing."