It can be hard to capture an audience as a solo singer-songwriter, especially when it's a sold out show at the Powerstation in Auckland on a Tuesday night. The nature of the genre means that, unless you have a certain spark or put on a looping extravaganza like Ed Sheeran, the songs can easily blend together and start to get somewhat monotonous and repetitive. This was my biggest concern prior to seeing English singer-songwriter Michael David Rosenberg or better known as Passenger. But I needn’t have worried... Rosenberg put on an engaging and enjoyable show.
The Powerstation was already packed by the time support act Luke Thompson took to the stage. His warm and melodic voice echoed through the room alongside the clever finger plucking of his guitar. The audience gave him a very enthusiastic bout of applause after his first song. “This next song is for when I need to get crowds the shut up and listen to me, although I see now I don’t really need it for you guys”, he said before playing a bluesy jam titled Please Stop Ignoring Me. The audience gave more rousing approval when he played the harmonica at the start of the song, which brought the energy up and showcased Thompson’s vocal range. Thompson has a fantastic voice and the crowd loved him, and the high energy blues tune was a personal favourite of mine from his set.
Thompson thanked the audience for being so receptive and shared his nervousness for playing the Powerstation, but his laid back nature and interaction with the crowd downplayed whatever nerves were present. He bantered about how he’d always told crowds that the chorus to his next song, On A Slow Boat To China, was easy to sing along to but was actually quite a mouthful. The crowd did indeed attempt to sing-along with Thompson commenting “very nice guys, a lot of wrong words but it’s fine” to appreciative chuckles from the crowd. He also said that he took on requests from the audience and while he thankfully seemed to miss the person who shouted for Wagon Wheel (shudder), he did catch someone requesting one of his own tunes, The Climb, The Fall. Thompson closed with Walls, an excellent dynamic finale that saw his frenzied strumming and soaring vocals abruptly make way for a quiet and captivating conclusion that ended his set nicely.
Rosenberg confidently waltzed onstage to huge applause and proclaimed “I fucking love this country!” His unique and instantly recognisable vocal tone filled the room and he didn’t hit a wrong note the entire night. He apologised over the confusion of whether he was a solo act or not - “I know Passenger sounds like a band, and at one point it was, but it’s just me tonight, and there will be no refunds” - and made frank and hilarious self-deprecating jokes about the fact that he only has one hit song.
Passenger’s stage presence is what I found most enjoyable... his relaxed nature, honesty, sharp wit and ability to laugh at himself made him endearing and relatable. Despite the laughs though, Passenger’s music is still very emotional, and that was very clear in David, which was prefaced with a story about the man for whom the song was written... a homeless man who would tell Rosenberg his life story every day. The poignant and heartfelt lyrics were poetic and clever, and I struggle to believe anyone in the room didn’t feel a twinge of bittersweet sadness as he sang “Looking in your eyes I think you know/That David we lost you, lost you a long time ago”.
Life’s For the Living brought up the energy... seeing Rosenberg use a stomp box to get a beat pumping through the room, and the audience sang along loudly to Hell Or Highwater, to the obvious delight of the singer. He asked for the audience to remain as silent as possible while he performed To Be Free, an evocative song about his family history prefaced by a story about his grandparents being Jewish refugees in World War 2. His ability to deliver a blend of light humour and honest stories about human experiences is the most captivating thing about Passenger as a performer, and by telling the stories behind his songs, Rosenberg gives them context and character.
Rosenberg delivered a particularly outstanding vocal performance with a cover of The Sound Of Silence before again ramping up the energy with the humorous and fun I Hate, introduced as being about “everything that pisses me off”. He announced his next song called Survivors and said “please don’t get it mixed up with the Destiny’s Child song” before very cheekily singing the chorus to Bootylicious as an appetiser. Having made several quips throughout the night about when he would be playing his one hit song, Passenger finally did play Let Her Go, and closed the night with a cover of Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark.
Having successfully conquered the Powerstation (he commented earlier that his last show at the venue was not a good one), the transparent and gleeful singer promised he would be back soon, and I know Auckland will be glad to have him back.
Passenger set list:
- Fairytales & Firesides
- Life’s For the Living
- Hell or Highwater
- To Be Free
- The Sound of Silence (Simon & Garfunkel cover)
- I Hate
- Let Her Go
- Scare Away the Dark
- Dancing in the Dark (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Luke Thompson set list:
- Please Stop Ignoring Me
- On a Small Boat to China
- Oh, Christine
- The Climb, the Fall