Passenger

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author HES date 11/07/14 venue Tivoli, Copenhagen, DEN

Passenger, or Michael "Mike" David Rosenberg as is his formal name, is best known for the hit-single "Let Her Go" that hit the airwaves like a freight train in 2013 but has much more history to his name than most people know him for. Rosenberg has basically been making music since he was 16 using a great part of the last 10 years playing in the streets (or "busking" as it's known in the UK) and in small pubs. After a couple of years touring Australia, he conducted two full albums before his mainstream break-through "All the Little Lights" of 2012. Whereas many may have thought the singer-songwriter's path to fame has been short and trouble-free the story is quite the opposite. For some of the same reasons Rosenberg still prefers "busking" to the bigger shows. If weather and time allows him, he therefore often plans a "busking"-session somewhere outside the venue for fans to join for free. For his visit playing Tivoli in Copenhagen Friday, he announces on his facebook-page that he will be "busking" in Copenhagen the Thursday before. This review will be of both performances.

All photos courtesy of Philip B Hansen / philipbh.com

Passenger, Strøget Thursday 10 of July

Critically for the attendance of this happening, the gig is moved only hours before from the central square Kultorvet to the shopping street of Strøget. One of the times Passenger played a similar gig in Copenhagen the show was shut down by police, but this time we are assured that the correct licenses have been produced. The gig is set up right outside the super-posh "Bang og Olufsen" boutique in the end of Strøget that houses Chanel, Agent Provocateur and Louis Vutton. How it has been possible to get any one store to say yes to an arrangement like this is a riddle to me, but good on you management people - this is not something this end of the street sees every day.

I arrive fifteen minutes before showtime and the set-up is already done. A guy is toying around with a guitar, seemingly doing sound check but is interrupted by none other than Rosenberg himself. The 10-20 early birds take the arrival as casual as Rosenberg himself with a small acknowledging clap and Rosenberg nods along as he warns us that this is just the sound check. After sound check he casually walks away saying he'll be back in 20, giving the late comers time to adjust to the new location. Slowly the small adjacent street and most of the shopping street fill ups around the corner-placed set-up and Rosenberg re-appears, takes off his flip flops and casually welcomes the crowd that has now risen to more than 100 on-lookers.

Not being the biggest fan of Passenger's latest release, he still amazes by making me completely fall in love with the title track "Whispers" as he mutes his guitar and yells out the bridge of "Everyone is filling me up with noise - I don't know what they're talking about - You see all I need is a whisper, in a world that only shouts" leaving the crowd in gasping silence. And once again I realize why Passenger is yet to be the only artist I have ever given a full score of 10 out of 10 - he is undefeatably the most impressing live-performer I have ever seen. The quietness continues with a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire" and continues into recent video-single "Scare Away The Dark". In my review of the "Whispers"-album I accused some of the lyrics of this song to be banal but in the oddest of ways, the "real" Passenger version - the live one - every word seems to be sung with such immersion, that it's hard not to take the, albeit simply formulated, critique of today's screen-focused society as a much more valid viewpoint.

One of the things that also impresses me, is the next songs to which I have no title, that Rosenberg says he wrote the day before containing strong imagery by the lines "All my life I've been chasing setting suns" - few artist would feel comfortable sharing a song they've only written two days ago - let alone do it well with such little practice. But Passenger once again shows how he is not like any other radio-fandomed musician. All in all the set is characterized by an extreme love of sharing music and most of the people singing along to the less known songs get an individual nod from Passenger as he plays the crowd-pleaser "I Hate" and the beautiful "Feather On The Clyde". Jokingly Passenger gets around to playing the big hit "Let Her Go", but ends where he really eats with an unplugged version “If You Go” and a formidable live version of “Holes”.

9

Setlist

  • 1. Whispers
  • 2. I'm On Fire (Springsteen cover)
  • 3. Scare Away The Dark
  • 4. New Song (Setting Suns)
  • 5. I Hate
  • 6. Feather On The Clyde
  • 7. Let Her Go
  • 8. If You Go
  • 9. Holes

Passenger, Tivoli Friday 11 of July

Now Tivoli is a different story. The park comprises of several rollercoasters, candy floss shops and other regular theme park amusements. The place differs by the fact that the middle of the park has a live stage where park-goers during the summer can enjoy "Friday Rock". In other words, some might come here to listen to Passenger, others might just stumble by as a part of the day's bill of entertainment. This is clearly the biggest issue of tonight's gig if you ask me. Last time Passenger visited Copenhagen it was in Vega's big hall with a dedicated fan group that during songs could became so quiet a needle could be heard if it had hit the ground. However, this is not the case today. Even by standing one row from the stage, I am still surrounded by drunk teenagers and people who only show up to get an iphone-recording of "Let Her Go". Especially three drunken boys in their caps and blinged out ears are so very engaged in their own world that even the casual onlookers ask them to simmer down. They leave halfway through the show. Passenger has a good feeling for the crowd and already before the first song is sung he announced that he "only has one hit song" and that he is not going to play it right away. This is an excellent way of saying "if you only came for that - you'll be disappointed".

Unusually, Passenger opens up with a song not even the dedicated fans will all know "Fairytales and Firesides" off his second album "Flight of the Crow", thus clearly drawing a line in the sand between the casual listeners and real fans. Unfortunately this also manifests itself in the level of conversation people have during the next few songs "Life's For the Living" and "I See Love" from his very first solo-album. Second single off "All The Little Lights", “Wrong Direction” gets the crowd more activated by its rhythmic appeal but weirdly turns into a medley with Haddaway's "What Is Love". Now I didn't find this apologetic when I first heard Passenger live, because the fame was still new to him and yes - he only has one big hit. But this and a cover of Aviici's "Wake Me Up" make it seem like Passenger still has a fear, that because of his way to fame, he has to borrow to entertain his audience when reality is quite the opposite. A cover I do love is his version of Simon and Garfunkle’s "Sound Of Silence" - piercingly performed in Passengers heart-wrenching yelling screams during the second verse. That still doesn't change the fact that Passenger does Passenger best and we see that in the hauntingly beautiful "Patient Love", "27" and "Scare Away The Dark" of which the recognisable "Oh oh oh"-choir is sung until Passenger reappears for an encore of "Whispers" and one of his very best songs "Holes" where of most of the fans can sing along to the chorus.

Overall Passenger makes it out of Tivoli alive in spite of the difference in audiences. The gig is the biggest headlining show he has ever played and I understand why he'd think playing covers of popular songs might fit this audience better. It just doesn't change the fact that it's too much of a gimmick and takes from the seriousness of the show. Passenger is not only a brilliant musician but a brilliant talker. His shows are riddled with anecdotes both funny and sad - spoken in a universal language all people will understand - there is no need to put superficial icing on the cake if you ask me. Sometimes it makes me wonder if Rosenberg is not really his own worst enemy: He apologises for cussing and apologises for his lack of "hits" by doing covers! Where is the confident man that just recently got his dreams fulfilled by getting to live off his music? Maybe it's the fear of losing what he gained that makes him susceptible to this kind of behaviour, but I would be afraid it might take away the one real capital he has: His honesty. I'd personally take Passenger on a side street with a bad PA-system over stadium-sized Passenger with an apologetic vibe about him. Still nothing really clouds how wonderful a vocalist, guitarist and storyteller the man is.

8

Setlist

  • 1. Fairytales and Firesides
  • 2. Life's For The Living
  • 3. I See Love
  • 4. Wrong Direction + Haddaway-medley
  • 5. Riding To New York
  • 6. Sound Of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
  • 7. I Hate
  • 8. Patient Love
  • 9. Wake Me Up (Aviici cover)
  • 10. Let Her Go
  • 11. 27
  • 12. Feather On the Clyde
  • 13. Scare Away The Dark

Encore

  • 14. Whispers
  • 15. Holes


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