Passenger

support The Once
author HES date 14/10/14 venue Falconer Salen, Copenhagen, DEN

Now I’ve seen Passenger two to three times by now and at none of his gigs have I been disappointed. After having cancelled in Sweden two days before because of a severe case of the man-flu (his words, not mine), Passenger announced that the show in Copenhagen would continue as planned. However, I lowered my expectations - vocal performance and really all performance when you’re just one guy on a stage with a guitar is crucial, but very easily affected by something as wee as a little man-flu. And even though Mike Rosenberg is on a good streak, resting on your laurels is not going to grant you a positive review or a good grade - I’d even go a far as saying: If you impress me once, good job. If you impress me two times, I’ll start getting suspicious.

First off, the information surrounding this gig has been lacking. Up until the last hour I couldn’t get a clear answer as to when the show started and only really because they had been warm up for his American tour, I expected either The Once, Stu Larsen or a combination to at some point grace us with a warm up gig. Our photographer and I luckily had time to show up at 20:00, just in time for The Once to open the stage - while half the audience was still outside putting their jackets in the cloak room, smoking or fetching a beer. As we are a magazine that values to review the entire show, it seems a pity that warm up acts are often missed because of bad communication from either band, booker or venue. However, I make it just as The Once hit the stage, still wearing my jacket and bag, but ready for some music.

All photos by Philip B Hansen

The Once

The band consists of a woman with a wonderful, clear voice and two men, one holding a guitar and the other one sticking to his banjo. Even though they’re from Canada, their backdrop is a massive replica of the Riverdance-logo, just in this case spelling out “The Once”. Their version of folk is clearly in the celtic/anglo-saxon division of the genre. The female lead-vocalist Geraldine “Gerry” Hollet has a clear, piercing voice and makes use of a handheld drum throughout the gig as Phil Churchill and Andrew Dale support her with harmonizing bass vocals. But, I want to say as usual, the acoustics of Falconér salen and the half-filled hall serve us with a lot of reverb.

On top of that, the musical stylings are very mundane and at the places where they are intended to be quiet and thoughtful they’re almost drowned by a chattering audience. The band is extremely authentic, but in this case not in the best way. I am afraid they would’ve fit better in a beer tent at an Irish Fair or something like that. One of the things that does manage to fetch the attention of the crowd is when an externally operated kick drum joins in to support the rhythm, every time it leaves the soundscape, the attention of the crowd leaves as well. The Canadian band makes sure to talk a bit with the audience and a high point is when they divide the crowd into an “A” and “1” team, so that no one is a loser - making fun of their heritage. And although the set almost picks up at the last song, the band never really manages to break through to anyone here.

5

Passenger

Usually a Passenger-gig is just Mike Rosenberg himself and his guitar. But it seems that his newly ended American tour has brought a bit more to the show in the shape of an animated backdrop in the naivistic style of the artwork from his 2014-album “Whispers”. It adds a bit more synergy to the show and something to look at, if you would ever get tired of Rosenberg’s smiling face. He starts off the set with a mixture of old and new with “Life’s For The Living” and “Rolling Stone”. Through out the show Rosenberg has a personal and intimate banter with his audience, first apologizing for not bringing a band, as many expect for his "Passenger” moniker to be a full-fledged band. Passenger relies heavily on story-telling and that is one of the things that makes his songs so emotive; that there’s a story behind them he genuinely wants to share with you. It makes his more opinionated songs and stories easier to digest and really understand - even though something like understanding lyrics can seem trivial.

Having been at gigs with Passenger before I always worry about a problem that arises in the tailwind of this fact; that we’ll hear the stories again, that they’ll be different, that they’ll be dishonest or they’ll just be down-right boring because you’ve heard them before. In my book there’s nothing I find as impersonal as an artist that repeats certain moves, gimmicks, jokes or stories at every show, it’s the easiest way to make your audience feel that every show is just another show in another city, that even though you’ve paid 300+ DKK for a ticket and this night is special to you, you’re just another stop on the road. But here Rosenberg truly excels in his storytelling ways: The stories are the same, but because they truly are personal stories there are no discrepancies in the stories he told at an earlier gig and the stories told now. We all know how stories can feel rehearsed once you’ve told them many times - but for some reason, Rosenberg avoids this by adjusting like a stand-up comedian to his environment. As he repeats the stories, some of them I’ve heard before, Rosenberg’s naturally adds details or shorten stories as if he actually remembers who he talked to last time he was here. All of this makes it feel like you’re catching up with an old friend, getting ever more to his story every time you meet him. It’s an amazing trait to have as a person, to make people feel like this and even more so to be able to do this as an entertainer - at no point you feel like you’re just another stop on the road and this is one of the many, many reasons that Rosenberg will continue to get over-the-top grades from this scribe and why I recommend everyone that loves music and storytelling to go see him perform.

I don’t know if it’s all that obvious that Rosenberg is still sick, but whereas it doesn’t affect his mood or physical endurance too much (he is after all completely alone on a stage for an hour) it does affect his vocal performance a bit - but only for the better if you ask me. Passenger’s releases are notoriously sugar-sweet and even though it’s a selling point in mainstream pop culture, the edge it adds to his voice to have a cold should be permanent if you ask me. My absolute favorite song “Whispers” off the same same-titled album is a perfect example of what makes the difference between Passenger live and Passenger on recordings: Many of his songs are actually angry songs about how society in many ways is on the wrong track, especially to the quiet, introvert Rosenberg. That his voice becomes worn and hoarse during the bridge of this song as he screams out with no backing instruments: “Oh everyone's filling me up with noise / I don't know what they're talking about / You see all I need's a whisper in a world that only shouts” is what makes my eyes turn moist and my skin prickly and this cold adding more emotion to this honest anger, only makes it even more amazing to continuously watch Passenger - it just works for me every time, even if I want to stay critical, because it’s becoming embarrassing to tell my metal co-workers that a singer-songwriter made me cry at his gig, again.

Unfortunately a recurring and unavoidable moment is upon us half-way through: It’s time for Passenger to play his mega-hit “Let Her Go” that probably half the now filled-to-the-brim Falconer came to hear. Now having actually gotten to know the back-catalogue of Passenger, I’d have to say it’s actually one of the weaker songs, primarily memorable because of it’s iconic intro-guitar/bell hook. It was after it hit the airwaves and was played so much that it annoys me when it shows up in my Passenger-queue on Spotify. But I do get it has to be played. It seems that Rosenberg shares many of my feelings regarding this song, although it did grant him fulfilment of all of his dreams of being able to make money on his music. He tiptoes it in after a medley of “The Things That Stop You Dreaming” and a cover of “Good Feeling”. He forgets a bit of the lyrics and jokingly excuses himself “It’s not like I’ve sung this song a billion times”, but I can’t help seeing the spark disappearing from his eyes briefly and his concentration flailing as he lets the crowd sing along and finishes it off with an extra round of the chorus. But being the professional musician he actually is, Rosenberg takes a sip of his “tea” and continues to his new single “27” that has tenfolds more of soul and nerve than “Let Her Go” ever had. I’d rather listen to songs with narrative brilliance like “Riding To New York” or “Heart’s On Fire”. Passenger also has a tradition of playing an absolutely brilliant cover of Simon & Garfunkle’s “Sound of Silence” that - I can’t believe I’m writing this - surpasses the original. It’s a good example of how Rosenberg skillfully uses intensity and quiet to create tension in his live-sessions, the intro being so quiet you could hear a needle hit the floor and rising to a violent crescendo as he yells his way through the lyrics: “And in the naked light I saw / Ten thousand people, maybe more / People talking without speaking / People hearing without listening” only to take down the levels of everything to an almost spoken word-version of the last verse. And it is so obvious why this song remains on his setlist while most of the other covers I criticised Passenger for doing during his recent Tivoli-gig have been dropped. Because whereas the others are just to cover for the fact that Passenger only ever had one hit, this song is fitting right in with the theme of being lost in a world that is moving way too fast, with no time for immersion, that is present in many of Rosenberg’s writings. I think that is also why his performances continue to move me so much, because they are truly about immersing yourself into music and storytelling for an hour or so. It’s not something we’re all that used to any more. And it is the main reason why music is still so touching to us, maybe even more so in these days, because we sometimes forget to immerse ourselves in the moment. Great music is not just something to entertain you for a given amount of time, it’s something for you to immerse yourself in and lose track of time to. This is why Passenger will probably keep getting praise from this writer. Because he let’s you immerse yourself in music on a rainy Tuesday night,

Setlist:

  • 1. Rolling Stone
  • 2. Lifes for The Living
  • 3. Wrong Direction/What Is Love-medley
  • 4. Riding to NY
  • 5. Sound of Silence
  • 6. I Hate
  • 7. Coins In a Fountain
  • 8. Heart’s on Fire
  • 9. The Things That Stop You Dreaming/Good Feeling-medley
  • 10. Let Her Go
  • 11. 27
  • 12. Whispers
  • 13. Scare Away the Dark

Encore:

  • 14. Golden Leaves
  • 15. Start a Fire feat. The Once
  • 16. Holes

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