Concert review: One-man band Ed Sheeran is one canny live performer

With his tousled ginger hair, unassuming get-up of black T-shirt, jeans and sneakers, British singer Ed Sheeran is not exactly the most striking as far as pop stars go.

Neither does he have a fancy stage set-up. In fact, with just him, his guitar, and an LED screen backdrop, his debut Singapore show on Saturday at The Star Theatre was downright minimal.

How then did a seemingly unostentatious crooner whip the packed venue into a frenzy almost throughout his 100-minute set? With a whole lot of charisma, talent and songs that speak to his late-teenage and 20something fans.

That, and perhaps an overuse of the big build-up, repeatedly bringing on layers of music recording loops for gradual crescendos to drive the fans wild.

He has no airs about him, more the friendly busker than a rock god asking to be worshipped - he just wantes to get everyone going with a good tune.

With his stripped-down template, he takes folk music into overdrive, adding in healthy dollops of pop, hip-hop and lyrics about the vagaries of life as a young adult.

When he croons, "I need you darling/ Come on set the tone/ If you feel you're falling/ Won't you let me know" in Sing and "All I want is the taste that your lips allow/ My, my, oh give me love" in Give Me Love, the fans sing along with gusto.

If the lyrics don't sound terribly original to you, that's because they aren't.

Sheeran's not the most original artist around. The scats and speedy delivery owe much to early Jason Mraz, although his tattoos and use of skateboard videos as a backdrop gives Sheeran a bit more street cred.

Photograph is driven by the one of the most common chord progressions in popular music, the same rousing one found in U2's With Or Without You and One Republic's Apologize, among others.

He loves interpolating past and recent hits into his setlist so we get Nina Simone's Feeling Good segueing into I See Fire, his big tune from the Hobbit soundtrack (with the dragon Smaug making a cameo on the video screen). Stevie Wonder's Superstition is slipped into Take It Back, and he even weaves in two reference in You Need Me I Don't Need You - 50 Cent's In Da Club and Iggy Azalea's Fancy.

Making up for the lack of originality, Sheeran is canny enough to make every song an event, whether is the tenderness of the quiet ballads such as The A Team and Tenerife Sea that make the ladies swoon, or the big, funky ones such as Lego House and Drunk.

A master at the loop machine, he makes himself out to be a one-man band, by making instant recordings and playback of the strums and thumps on his guitar, playing them on repeat and layering these loops on top of one another to create a panoply of sounds.

While he can also rap when he's not slinging his guitar, his hip-hop stage moves are more endearing than gangsta.

It is interesting to compare Sheeran's gig with boyband One Direction - his good mates - who played their first Singapore show earlier in the week.

He showed that you really don't have to have five chiselled, strapping young lads to get thousands of fans into a frenzy - one man with a lot of charm and absorbing tunes is all it takes.

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