By Poppy Tohill
Date / Venue: Friday January 30th, Civic Theatre, Auckland
Never in my life and 127 concert goings have I ever experienced a crowd like the one that filled Auckland's Civic Theatre, almost to capacity last night. All credit of course goes to Michael Rosenberg, whom most will know as Passenger, the Brighton based folk singer we were all there to see.
When listening to some artists' records it's fairly easy to imagine what their live show would be like. For me however, Passenger isn't one of those artists. When listening to his emotive and melancholic, folk tunes, I've always wondered how they would translate into a live scene, and let me tell you that the way they did was beyond my highest expectations.
Rosenberg is not a shy man that's for sure and the warmth and energy that radiated off him didn't take long to sink into the crowd, as he bounded on stage welcoming us with a broad smile and his arms wide open. "You realise Paul Simon & Sting are in town tonight," he informed the audience.
"Yet you're still here..." he laughed. "You've definitely made the wrong choice, but thanks none the less!" he laughed again before kick starting the night's entertainment with the sweet, melodic 'Rolling Stone' from his most recent album 'Whispers.'
By looking at the stage one could have easily thought it's too big for just one man and his guitar, but within seconds Passenger had the entire audience transfixed and quite comfortably sitting in the palm of his hands.
"Most depressing start to a gig ever, Wooohoo!" he enthusiastically beckoned as the song came to an end. Happily chatting away to the audience telling stories and jokes between each song, Rosenberg joked that his jeans "haven't always been this skinny. I washed them and put them out to dry and then something terrible happened, so just ignore my legs tonight if you can," he chuckled, before someone in the audience responded, "you said that last time." "Oh shit did I?" Rosenberg laughed in response, "well let's just ignore that fact too," he smirked before continuing on to play 'Life's For The Living' from his 2012 album All The Little Lights. Which saw Rosenberg put his sound effects to the test at re-creating the trombone instrumental, while the big projector screen behind him shone with simplistic and beautiful moving images, adding an even more magical atmosphere to the surroundings.
"Take it off, take it off" someone in the audience shouted at one point during the night. "Did you just say take it off?" Rosenberg asked. "I actually psychically can't, I've been wearing these jeans for two weeks now," he responded laughing.
Numerous different emotions floated throughout the room over the course of the night, but the heart-wrenching story of a man with lung cancer riding a motorbike from the west coast of America to the east coast to spend his last moments with his children and grandchildren was enough to reduce anyone to tears. Upon asking everyone to be as silent as possible, no one needed to be asked twice, as Rosenberg went on to dedicate 'Riding To New York' to this man who had helped him give up smoking. The entire audience in mesmerisation from the story sat completely still in silence, entranced in what was the most emotional and stunning performance I have ever witnessed at a concert in my entire life.
'The Sound of Silence,' and oldie 'Underwater Bride (featuring Eye Of The Tiger)' from his 2009 album Wide Eyes Blind Love both proved crowd favourites, although nothing was able to overshadow the highlight that was 'I Hate.' The swear-word filled song received many cheers as people clapped and sung along as Passenger went on to diss the likes of X Factor for murdering music, and beauty magazines for encouraging ten year olds to race to grow up and be anorexic.
'Let Her Go' Passenger's hit single was surprisingly next, followed by his own realisation- "That song is my only hit single, so I probably should have saved it till last," he joked. "You can play it again!" someone in the audience smartly responded, which was followed by a number of laughs and cheers from both Rosenberg and the 2000+ audience members. 27 saw everyone rise from their seats for a dance, sing and clap around, proving yet another highlight and favourite for many.
Next we were treated to a brand new song- so new in fact that it is still yet to be titled. "Let Him Go" someone from the audience humorously projected offering their suggestion of a name for the new tune. Rosenberg trying to hold back his laughter replied, "It's not called 'Let Him Go..." before taking a deep breath and announcing, "I'm just not even going to say anything," before he launched into what proved to be another great emotive love song.
Before too long Passenger had unfortunately reached the end of his set, finishing on a high with 'Scare Away The Dark.' The song about everyone wasting away their lives and dying in front of computer screens saw Rosenberg ask everyone to stand, clap, dance and sing-a-long, politely asking if all cameras and phones could be put away for the song. Not one audience member disrespected his wishes, as the 2000 strong crowd sung along at the top of their lungs with not one single screen in sight.
What happened next was the most heart-warming and incredible thing I have ever witnessed at a concert in my life. Rosenberg disappeared off the stage as it faded into black, but rather than the usual repetitive calling of "encore" or "we want more," the entire audience in unison clapped and continued singing the "ohh, ohhh, oh, ohhh's" of 'Scare Away The Dark' for the next five minutes, showing their immense love and adoration for Passenger. The 'Ohs' continued to ring and echo around the entire venue as Rosenberg blown away by this response re-appeared on stage touching his heart, looking almost surprised and more than thankful for this immensely touching gesture.
Running to the microphone to join in with the 'oh, ohhh, oh, ohhh's' which were still being projected in full force from the audience, Rosenberg eventually processed this overwhelmingly stunning reception and beckoned, "Thank you so much Auckland. Do you have time for three more songs?" which of course didn't even require an answer.
Things That Stop You Dreaming another tune from his All The Little Lights album spectacularly began the encore.
Following this, Passenger's opening act, Canadian trio The Once returned to the stage again to perform a medley together which featured Van Morrison's, Brown Eyed Girl, Bruce Springsteen's Dancing In The Dark, finishing with Fleetwood Mac's, Go Your Own Way. The combination of the trio who sang the most stunning three part harmonies backed by guitars, lutes and mandolins, and Passenger on stage together made for something absolutely beautiful and memorable from both sides of the stage.
As The Once departed the stage for the last time, Passenger continued on a high with a fast paced and energetic performance of 'Holes' for the audience to boogie away to one last time before the night drew to an end. A lot of clapping, singing and dancing of course followed and eventually the goodbyes came and went as Rosenberg disappeared from the stage for the last time.
Not only was there music being played, but I think Rosenberg talked as much as he sung, which isn't something you always see from an international artist, therefore making it an even more special affair. His rapport with the audience was beyond impressive and the interaction and personalisation he created between himself and the crowd is something in itself he should be congratulated for. But in terms of the instrumentation, the lyricism and overall performance that sunk right into the soul of every single audience member, Passenger is one of a kind- and has more than perfected the craft of live performances to the point where I could personally watch him over and over again and never fail to be impressed, blown away and mesmerised by his art, and in saying this I think I can quite confidentially speak for the majority if not every single person who left the Civic Theatre last night, taking away more than I think they bargained for upon arrival.