Ed Sheeran is a big hit in Pittsburgh debut

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It's not often that young girls line up 15 hours before a concert, in the freezing rain no less, for an artist who doesn't have a dance crew.

Ed Sheeran, one of the unlikely additions to the Top 40 market, is essentially a folk singer who puts poetry to an acoustic guitar. In fact, at times, he's like Tracy Chapman as a white dude with red hair.

The 21-year-old singer-songwriter, though, adds some lively modern twists, making his Pittsburgh debut Monday night at Stage AE, nothing like a quiet coffeehouse affair.

Set list

• 1. Give Me Love

• 2. Drunk

• 3. U.N.I.

• 4. Grade 8

• 5. Wayfaring Stranger

• 6. Small Bump

• 7. Be My Husband (Nina Simone cover)

• 8. Kiss Me (with Foy Vance)

• 9. The City

• 10. Wake Me Up

• 11. Lego House


• 12. You Need Me, I Don't Need You

• 13. Gold Rush

• 14. The Parting Glass (traditional cover)

• 15. The A Team

Mr. Sheeran is a looper, if you will, who builds tracks on the spot with riffs, slaps, claps and old-school beatboxing. By the time he's done he can make quite a racket and finish the song standing up on the monitor playing guitar with no guitar in his hand. He also had at his fingertips a very lovely sounding girls choir thousands strong that knew every word.

They started singing with him in emo fashion from the first lines of "Give Me Love," an opening statement with a rousing crescendo and pep rally energy. They sang with him beautifully through "Drunk," "U.N.I." (the first taste of rap) and "Grade 8" before he grabbed the reins.

He cleverly explained that the show would have "loud points and quiet points" and during the quiet ones, they were to use "the universal shhh" or a soft stroke on the shoulder to quell the noisemakers.

Believe it or not, it actually worked, which is good because there are those people who come to hear the singer sing, and Mr. Sheeran, a busker from way back, has a fine instrument.

In the quiet, he assembled a loop-driven stomp through the Southern spiritual "Wayfaring Stranger" that was far above the pay grade of a teen pop sensation. Same goes for the genre-bending rave-up of Nina Simone's "Be My Husband" that took his choir to church.

"Small Bump" and "The City" were so Chapman-like you expected him to break into "Fast Car." Close. He went for "Black & Yellow" as singers tend to do in the Burgh. After the song he expressed his disappointment in learning that we are actually Black & Gold.

After closing with another sing-along on "Lego House," he launched his encores with "You Need Me, I Don't Need You," the song he's turning into his "Stairway to Heaven"/"Free Bird" moment. It raged on for almost 15 minutes with a little bit of everything: a loop of the "Layla" riff, a hip-hop throwdown with openers Rizzle Kicks, scary flashes of video and a Jets/Sharks shout-off in the crowd.

"Gold Rush" had a jaunty Mraz skip to it and a slice of "Don't Worry, Be Happy" while "The Parting Glass" was a gentle nod to his Irish folk roots, played sweetly on a darkened stage. If you're looking for range, look no further.

It's become rare to save the big hit for last but he did just that with "The A Team," maybe because the line about it "being too cold to go outside" brought us full circle. Of course, the Grammy-nominated song was another chance for the singer and his girls choir to shine.

In July, he'll be back to do it again with Taylor Swift, and if anyone here doubted that he has the volume, charisma and crowd control skills to work a stadium, he settled that Monday night.

"Thank you," he said at the end, "for queuing up since god knows when and singing along and just being so happy."

Fortunately, he made it worth their wait.

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Scott Mervis: smervis@post-gazette.com; 412-263-2576. First Published January 29, 2013 12:30 PM


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