If you haven’t heard of Passenger yet, you should very soon.
Passenger is Mike Rosenberg, a former British busker who’s on the verge of breaking North America with his latest album, the year-old All The Little Lights. The album has been percolating in the bottom reaches of the Billboard chart but has enjoyed a very steady climb every week for almost a year now. Call it the Mumford effect, but North America can’t seem to get enough of the British buskers.
Returning to the Phoenix for the second time in a year, Passenger greeted a packed house who let out a roar that would have been fitting at a One Direction gig. Taken aback by the response, Rosenberg promised “the most depressing hour of your life” and then for just over an hour, delivered the exact opposite.
Live, Passenger is just Rosenberg and his acoustic guitar. His voice sounds frail and fragile on record but at points it managed to boom through the room silencing those out merely for a social call.
While primarily known for his most recent album, Rosenberg was at ease when diving into material recorded and sold during his busking days. The rapturous crowd (who screamed at mentions of “sushi” and “Twitter”) loved every minute of it.
Being a busker, Rosenberg is a great storyteller, which is why the evening wasn’t depressing. His lyrics can be depressing, like the fraught “Travelling Alone” which hushed the crowd. The story behind the song, while a bit gloomy in itself, managed to be injected with enough humour to have the audience in stitches. His acoustic guitar was used to great dramatic effect, especially on an awesome cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence”.
There were also rabid sing-alongs ensuring the gathered masses went home happy. From the hit “Let Her Go” and a cover of Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky” everyone was eager to lend their voices. His own “I Hate”, I found the most humorous as the same people who didn’t stop talking through the night managed to bellow out the line “I hate people who spend twenty quid for a gig and chat through it” or something to that effect.
The night would have been more suited to Massey Hall. Too much chatter in the bar area would distract and derail most performers, but Rosenberg didn’t seem to take much notice and by the end of the evening he branded it “gig of the tour”.