There are stadiums that promoters will claim are sold out and then there are stadiums that are legitimately filled to the brim, the ones where you're hard-pressed to spot even one empty seat.
When Ed Sheeran took the stage Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, it was the latter.
It's no easy feat to fill an arena the size of the Linc. Even some of pop radio's heaviest hitters shy away from the challenge when they bring their world tours to Philadelphia.
Sheeran did it without the heavy production typical of many concerts these days. For the entirety of his nearly two-hour set, he was the only one on stage. Rather than use a band or backing track, he brings a loop pedal, a device that allows him to record and play back layers of harmonies and lyrics as he sings. It's a signature performance technique that Sheeran has employed nearly his entire career. He's so good at it, that despite the lack of backup vocals or instruments, the songs sound the same, or in some cases, even better than the versions you hear on the radio.
He's also good at pleasing a crowd. After taking the stage with his nostalgic tune "Castle on the Hill," he greeted the audience: "First off, congratulations on the Super Bowl." His set featured several tracks off his latest album, ÷, including his massive radio hit "Shape of You" and the fiddle-heavy "Galway Girl," as well as a variety of fan favorites from his earlier albums. At one point, he surprised the crowd by playing "Give Me Love," a song off his debut album + that he admitted he rarely plays live anymore. Later, he earned the loudest cheers of the night when he returned to the stage for his encore wearing an Eagles jersey.
What stood out most about Sheeran, though, beyond his clear musical talent and knack for igniting a crowd, was his ability to seem remarkably down to earth even under bright lights on a big stage. He wore jeans, sneakers, and a T-shirt that read "Hoax." Between songs, he told stories and made jokes, mostly at his own expense, and as he played, a grin of genuine joy often crept up on his face as he looked out at the crowd.
Then again, when you're selling out stadiums, what isn't there to smile about?
While in town, sources tell us Sheeran and Snow Patrol singer Gary Lightbody (who opened at the Linc Thursday night) enjoyed Philadelphia's finest delicacy, the Philly cheesesteak, while dining at Barclay Prime. Both also had a side of tater tots.