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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Review: Ed Sheeran charms and conquers Dubai to cap off epic year of concerts

The crowd favourites from the British musician came in thick and fast at the Autism Rocks Arena on Thursday night

Ed Sheeran performs at Autism Rocks Arena in Dubai. Navin Khianey for The National
Ed Sheeran performs at Autism Rocks Arena in Dubai. Navin Khianey for The National

Dubai marked the end of the road for Ed Sheeran, for this year at least. After more than 100 shows around the world in 2017, his nearly two-hour performance on Thursday night at the Autism Rocks Arena was the final staging post on what has been an epic year.

Sheeran sold out the venue in minutes when tickets were released in May, but his appearance was thrown into doubt last month after the performer had, in his words, “a bit of a bicycle accident” and cancelled some stops on the tour. Fortunately, he not only came to Dubai, he charmed and conquered the sell-out crowd.

Arriving on stage just after the advertised 10pm start time, Sheeran’s performance deviated just once from what is the traditional set-list for the tour (more of that later), as he opened with a trio of crowd pleasers: Castle on the Hill, Eraser and A Team, the latter being played out to a sea of smartphones held aloft by the crowd.

In marked contrast to Chrissie Hynde, who had blotted her own performance in the emirate last month by expressing her anger at concert goers using their phones to film her band The Pretenders while on stage, Sheeran actively encouraged the audience to turn their phone lights on during the song.

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Ed Sheeran in Dubai

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The sold-out arena had the air of a boutique out-of-town festival about it on Thursday night, with the lights of the city twinkling far away in the distance. And those who made the journey to the “middle of the desert”, as Sheeran described it, were in the mood to enjoy the start of the weekend.

There was plenty of mutual appreciation in the air. Sheeran made reference to his recent injury scare saying he “didn’t expect to be on stage” but was very happy to be there, a comment that drew energetic applause. He later said he was “loving the energy” of the Dubai crowd.

After an atmospheric and brooding performance of Bloodstream, Sheeran unexpectedly played Tenerife Sea, dedicating the song to a friend of his who was leaving the tour party and moving to Vancouver.

Crowd favourite Galway Girl drew, unsurprisingly, rapturous applause. How Would You Feel (Paean) arrived soon afterwards, for which Sheeran enlisted the help of P J Smith, a carpenter for the touring crew who also happens, somewhat serendipitously, to be an accomplished pianist. It was a standout moment in an evening of great heights.

Proceedings gathered further pace with an exquisite rendition of Photograph and a lively version of Nancy Mulligan. By the time Thinking Out Loud ticked around, providing another stunning moment, drops of rain were falling on the crowd.

Sheeran closed the show with Sing, before coming back to encore with Shape of You and You Need Me, I Don’t Need You. Ever the entertainer, he said “thank you for having me” as he left the stage.

The compliment was, understandably, returned with interest.