WASHINGTON – Turns out, seeing Ed Sheeran perform in a random person’s house ... is not all that different from seeing him at an arena.
After all, it’s still just him and a guitar. There are still screaming fans, even if it’s around 70 of them, instead of the nearly 20,000 who come to his arena shows. He still has that amused expression of someone who doesn’t seem to know how he’s gone from unknown British singer to one of the biggest pop stars in the world.
Regardless, the 26-year-old Sheeran threw his energy into a 20-minute set this week in a Washington, D.C., living room during a show for Sofar Sounds, the organization that features musicians in small, intimate venues. The show, which also featured Jaja Bashengezi and Black Alley, was part of the Give a Home concert series, a partnership with Amnesty International where all proceeds go toward refugee support. Holly Branson, daughter of billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson, co-hosted the event along with musician Emmanuel Jal.
More than 300 Sofar shows took place around the world Wednesday, and Sheeran was the biggest star playing anywhere – obviously, the handful of D.C. tickets were snapped up immediately. So, here are a few things that happen when Sheeran plays a concert in a living room.
1. You learn origin stories
Apparently, Sheeran and Holly Branson go way back. As Branson told the crowd, she caught Sheeran playing small clubs in Britain before he was a star. At one such show in 2011, Branson asked him to play at her upcoming wedding – she said they couldn’t pay him but would cover his flight and accommodations. Sheeran happily agreed. Then, a few months later, he suddenly had a No. 1 debut album. Branson’s fiancé said, “There’s no way he’s going to show up.” Guess what happened?
“He’s a man of his word,” Branson said. Sure enough, Sheeran confirmed this story and said he had a blast. It was only unfortunate, he said, because “at that time, I didn’t really have any songs that were that romantic.” His lead single was “The A Team,” about a drug-addicted prostitute.
“It’s probably, like, the last song you want to play at your wedding,” Sheeran said. It’s ironic because now, Sheeran’s smash “Thinking Out Loud” is a massively popular wedding song. Branson, sitting on the floor with everyone else, swayed and sang along as Sheeran played the ballad.
2. Sheeran plays his big hits – and his favorite song
Sheeran didn’t have much time before he had to go play the second of his two sold-out shows in Washington, so he squeezed in his hits “Thinking Out Loud,” “Shape of You” and “Castle on the Hill,” plus “Perfect,” his latest single, which he declared is his favorite song he’s ever written.
“I always say it, but I hope I don’t say that for the rest of my life, because it means everything’s going downhill from here,” Sheeran said. Then he apologized because he said he told that joke at his D.C. show Tuesday, and planned to say it at Wednesday’s concert, as well.
After those four songs, he left quickly, without any mingling.
3. You find out Sheeran fun facts
“It’s really nice to be back playing in a living room,” he said. “This is how I used to make my living.” He revealed that he would frequently play gigs in people’s homes for 20 quid (or $30).
4. His crowd banter is about the same
Between songs, Sheeran casually chatted with the audience. “Did everyone know what the ticket was for today?” Sheeran asked, as Sofar often doesn’t reveal details until right before the show. However, everyone assured him that, yes, in this case, they knew he was on the bill. “I didn’t know if it was a raffle or something,” he said.
He also thanked the audience for skipping work to come to a performance in the middle of the day. One fan volunteered that she was actually a student. “College is important,” Sheeran assured her, “but not today.”