Ed Sheeran performs in soft seat Queen Elizabeth Theatre

U.K. superstar Ed Sheeran plays the first of two local shows in Vancouver.

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Ed Sheeran is an arena artist.

That’s why he performs at B.C. Place on Sept. 2 with opening acts Khalid and Maisie Peters. It’s what you would expect from one of the biggest stars in the pop world.

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As a value-added treat for fans, the U.K. singer-songwriter is adding smaller venue pre-stadium shows on his +–=÷X tour, a.k.a., the Mathematics tour. He brought his one-man-with-guitar-and-gizmos show to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre Friday night — one of 14 theatre shows added to the tour.

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The two hour-long show draws from material found on all of the artists’ math-titled releases — 2011s +, 2014s X, 2017s ÷, 2021 = and 2023 -. All told, the set list is adding up to an average of 26 songs. Naturally, there are some extras such as a version of Blackstreet’s 1996 smash No Diggity, among others.

On Friday, the packed QET crowd was visibly antsy to see the headliner.

For those familiar with his solo work, the stage set up for a full band and six-piece string section was a sure surprise.

The show that followed was a complete tour de force.

In a three section show, Sheeran performed the whole of his album Subtract, a hits laden second part Happy Hour and finished with what he dubbed “the Wild Card bit.” For even the most diehard fan, Subtract is a challenge and its creator is well aware that songs about — and informed by — grief, loss, depression, pain and personal upheaval are not arena anthems.

So he turned the record into a songwriter in the round session where each song was broken down to its foundation story and it made for a great tour of the material.

From not wanting to admit the loss of his best friend in the lushly rendered Eyes Closed to the drunken initial inspiration for the album The Hills of Aberdeldy, the section had its slow points.

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But that’s what the album is about, reflection and reminiscing.

That the backing band did such a spectacular job orchestrating songs such as Salt Water and End of Youth with lush strings, sympathetic synths and spectacular six-part harmonies was acknowledged by Sheeran on a few occasions.

He admitted that it has always been a dream to play theatres with a killer band. Check that off the list.

Of course, this is the artist who became a global star with just an acoustic guitar, a massive loop station and a load of instantly hummable stick-in-the-head sing-along songs. Happy Hour brought that out big time.

Backed by multiple samples of his own in the moment creation, he dropped great versions of Shiver and Shape of You, which are sure to be echoing across B.C. Place on Saturday night.

But Sheeran in a small setting, telling stories and able to grab tunes from throughout his catalogue was a rare and wonderful treat.

In fact, it was an entirely different experience of this hit-making machine — one that could find doubters reappraising their opinions of writing hooks.

It’s always good to see an artist make the most of a prime opening slot. Which is exactly what Austin singer-songwriter Ben Kweller did in his six-song warm-up.

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A writer in the tradition of Laurel Canyon troubadours with a healthy dose of Central Texas twang tossed in, Kweller is no newbie. Before playing his single Fallen, he noted that this year marks the 20th anniversary of his debut album.

The artist had taken almost a decade-long break from music after a near death accident with his whole family. He returned to recording in 2021 with Circuit Boredom.

Kweller’s experience clearly showed in his song choices and showcased his talents on both guitar and piano. By the end of his show, he had people singing along to a new tune like it was an old chestnut.

Great audience teaser for the main event.

Sheeran’s first release on his new label is due out soon. The man is relentless.

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