Passenger

support Stu Larsen
author HES date 03/11/13 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN

I'm on my way to Copenhagen in a train. I've been super busy the last couple of days, battling a cold. On top of that, yesterday I was at a funeral and my ex-boyfriend just entered a new relationship on facebook. To be honest I can’t be bothered to spend tonight with people who only show up to gigs to listen to the one single they know like "Let Her Go" and I am most of all not in the mood for sappy love songs. Luck will also have it, that I have planned the trip from my parent's house to the venue wrong, so I show up an hour early to closed doors in monsoon-like rain. I am soaking, I am all alone and I am seriously considering just giving up and going home. But this is the story of why I am very happy I didn't:

Full galleries of both artist available at philipbh.com

Stu Larsen

I find a coffee place to warm up. I get to Vega 10 to 8. At 8 sharp, Stu Larsen hits the stage. Stu Larsen is a tall guy with long, blond hair and beard. He is wearing the regular old singer-songwriter outfit, with his red leather shoes as the only thing sticking out. He introduces his first song about "Seafort McKenzie". I think we all were in doubt of how this show would go. Both acts tonight are very slow, quiet and based on words, lyrics, storytelling instead of noise and energy as a rock show usually is. But quite naturally the whole room quiets down to the point where you could drop a needle and hear it. But it's not an indifferent silence, it's an anticipating silence - it sucks you in with its awkwardness because we're so used to talking. Larsen's voice is high-pitched but clean and clear with a twist of nasality. His falsetto is controlled, but natural. He is also using his mic - using the distance to it to vary in vocal power making a set with only a man and his guitar a bit more contrasted. He continues into "San Francisco" - a song about when he was travelling around California. His honey-warm guitar almost has the sound of an unplugged acoustic one.

Larsen tells us about how he has been supporting Passenger for 3 years now - after a random meet up in Larsen's home country of Australia. He decides to play a song he played during sound check and dedicates it to "Joey The Sound Guy" and you really get the sense of the kind of family touring musicians become as they grow together as. The song he dedicates is Louis Armstrong's "Wonderful World" in a Stu Larsen-edition. But for me, it's the next song "King Street" that really hits home. Larsen tells an anecdote of how he was walking down this street in what I think was Sydney. Anyway, it doesn't matter much. It's a street we in some way all know, with the high-end stores and the homeless people in contrast, on the sidewalks. It's a story of the contrast in human society - but it's not political, it's more of an open question. Lyrics like "his mother would be lying, if she said she wasn't crying, herself to sleep every night" will haunt me for a while. The last song "This Train" is centred around a harmonica-refrain mimicking the sound of an old steam locomotive. Larsen almost dances to his own music, standing on his toes for high notes, closing his eyes when his wailing voice mimics the foghorn. A completely packed Vega, which has been listening in awe, salutes Larsen as he leaves the stage.

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Passenger

Passenger is a not-so-tall guy - or maybe he just seems like a small guy because of the vast amount of space he leaves empty at Vega's biggest stage. He is the kind of guy who wears flannel shirts and grows his beard out. If you have somehow avoided his hit song "Let Her Go" I expect you to have been living in a cave for the past 6 months. His voice is nasal and very distinct. As a matter of fact most people would be able to recognize it from a mile away. All he has with him on stage is a guitar. He doesn't open the show with a song, but with a story - the story of how he's gained in popularity but set at the backdrop of Copenhagen; He has now played all 3 stages of Vega. First the small Ideal Bar, which is more of a big pub than a scene, then later he played Vega's middle stage (which is awkwardly called "Lille Vega" or in English "Small Vega") and lastly now he is standing here, and looking very small at "Store Vega", the biggest scene - and in my eyes one of the best in Copenhagen. But I'll get to why that is later.

The thing, that Passenger mainly is, is a storyteller. Not a singer or musician or popstar or anything like that. He drinks whisky out of a glass on stage, just a small swig at a time, as he tells stories of a girl who was scared of sneezing at his show, because his shows sometimes get very quiet. He asks us to please sneeze if we need to. I won’t paraphrase every story he tells tonight, but the stories are crucial in understanding why I had him so terribly misunderstood; These are stories and even though the choruses may be catchy, it’s not the point of them to be sung along to, but to tell some profound truth Passenger found while he was passing by, hence the stagename. In spite of this, the crowd still joins in for the chorus of the amazingly uplifting "Life's For the Living". It’s hard to believe I was standing in the rain just hours ago, considering going home and miss this. The next thing that happens, is something I've never seen before at a show. Ladies and gentlemen, I've been to quite a few shows by now, so after all it takes a bit of balls to surprise me. Why has it never been done in my presence before? Because I thought it to be impossible. A strange tale like those of unicorns and hidden treasures.

The space holds up 1500 people and tonight, I don't doubt that tonight we're at the breaking point. But as Passenger tells an anecdote of how he used to play pubs with no PA-system or even a microphone, he somehow seems to make the most daring decision I have seen an artist take on stage: He asks us, if he can play a song unplugged? The crowd reacts with a mixture of surprise and excitement as Rosenberg rips out the chord to his guitar and steps away from the microphone stand to sing us an unplugged rendition of "Blind Love". From his spot on the massive stage, his voice reverbs from stage, to the balcony in the back and all the way back, surviving cracking floor boards, 1500 breaths and the sound-absorbing bodies of the packed room. He only returns to the mic for the last couple of lines. If we weren't already on our feet, the ovation would still be standing.

Unaffected of the sheer insanity of what he just accomplished, Passenger continues with "The Wrong Direction" as if nothing out of the ordinary just happened here. Maybe it is. Maybe he does this at every show but that just makes it even more crazy. He then enables a story about quitting cigarettes to end up in the premise of his new song "Riding to New York" about a "Lucky Strikes fool since I was in school"-biker with a mission to get to New York from LA before his terminal cancer will get the best of him. I won't try to describe how wonderful of a storyteller Passenger is, both in lyrics and in person, because my paraphrasing doesn't even do it justice. But tonight we cry and laugh, we listen and we sing along. I've never felt a body of an audience be so in-sync - we are literally of the same breath – breathing and singing in unison. But it's not only serious. The sappy love songs are handled with such finesse and humour; I can't possibly hold it against him that some of the themes cover the same area. I can't hold anything against him. And he sings a cover of Simon & Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence" so that I've simultaneously never heard it before and heard a thousand times. His voice becomes strained with emotion as he pounds on the strings for a noisy finale. He still only has one guitar, but he sounds like an orchestra on his own.

We laugh as he plays "I Hate” and instructs us to sing along the “la la la” chorus if we hate the same things as he does. By the line “I hate ignorant folks, who pay money to see gigs. And talk through every fucking song”, it’s pretty obvious that this crowd won’t find trouble relating and it solidifies that Passenger is more than just "that guy who made that song". He says that it's the only funny song he knows - I beg to differ. But maybe he just makes them funny for us, because he knows we’ll be back out in the rain soon. The many "I can relate"-moments throughout his gig and stories make me all smiles tonight. He plays "Patient Love" and it's pitch is so high that men’s bassy sing along lets the light sopranos in the crowd form a soaring harmonic - even though none of us are backup singers. It seems planned. But it’s not!

Mockingly, but in good faith Passenger ends off the song gliding into a few bars of Daft Punk's "Get Lucky" - in perfect harmony with the fact that the next song also has been getting nauseating amounts of airtime this summer. "Let Her Go" is the obvious climax we all been expecting. But I thank Passenger for not trying to harvest anything extra from it by altering it or prolonging it. The people who came here to hear only this song have been quiet for all of us and they deserve to have this song as is.

Next song's introduction is short but sweet; "I wrote this when I was depressed..." a few laughs from the audience and he follows up: "Surprise!" This is typical of the friendly banter that has risen within our little musical community. He plays "27". The supporting act, Stu Larsen comes back afterwards for "Heart's On Fire" - but all of us crack up when the two men, sharing a mic, sing the line "we'll be lovers again"; their heads in kissing-distance. The stoic calm of both men accommodates our laughter and they share the laugh, but professionally carry the song to its end. Their voices fit like hand in glove - Mike Rosenberg's nasal hum and Larsen's stinging falsetto. This song is followed by a heartfelt plea from Rosenberg to "not watch the show through a smartphone screen" as he kicks in a song with more critique of society than the best of punk songs called "Scare Away The Dark": “We’re scared of flying, and swimming and shooters - but we’re all slowly dying in front of fucking computers". The show ends in a classic call-and-response between Passenger and us. It takes him around 2 minutes to get back for the encore saying "Did I come back too fast?"

But he didn't come back too fast and it didn't really matter anyway - because how phony is that encore-trick anyway? By now all shows I go to have encores. Am I wrong to remember that encores were something special? The second reason it doesn't matter, is because both the quiet "Whispers" and more lively "Holes" are two songs I would have hated to have missed. This has truly been a good fucking night. I've realized a lot about music and shows and bravery tonight. I've also learned that Passenger is more than that one single, more than sappy lovesongs and he is probably the most impressing "showman" I've ever seen, in light of him being a very unlikely one. This performance transcends the genres we usually label bands with at this magazine and I wish everyone I know, that truly loves music, had been here tonight to see this.

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