The first time that I saw Passenger was in 2007 at the now defunct Little Civic in Wolverhampton. It was a small and somewhat dated, 200 capacity venue, and on that evening it was definitely not full. Later that year, the band split up; but this did not deter front man Mike Rosenberg as he continued under the ‘Passenger’ name, now as a solo artist.
Skip forward to October 2013, and I am stood in a near sold-out O2 Academy, Birmingham (which has a capacity for just over 3000 people) waiting for Mike to perform. Opening on old track Table For One, he took to the bare stage lit only by minimal lighting and joked with the audience “It’s just me and my guitar. No laptops or pedals. When people hear that they usually want their money back”. This is one of the beautiful things about a Passenger performance; he doesn’t rely on gimmicks or gadgets to sell the songs to the audience, it is all about Mike’s uncanny ability to tell tales through his songs. Tonight he told many tales.
Life’s For The Living was played relatively early in the set, but already the audience were thoroughly involved in the singalong element of the night as they joined in with this track off Passenger’s latest album All The Little Lights. Mike then requested quiet as he made the night even more personal by performing an unplugged version of Blind Love, walking away from the microphone while singing at times so that the audience could hear his endearing vocals in their purest state.
Many anecdotes were told throughout the night, but the one that particularly sticks in my mind is that of a man that Mike met while going to buy cigarettes on his travels. Sadly, this man was dying of lung cancer and had decided to travel across America to make the most of his time left and see his family. Needless to say, Mike did not buy cigarettes that day and this story is the subject of one of his new songs.
On a more cheerful note, I Hate drew the biggest crowd participation throughout the night. This has become a particular fan favourite, with a tongue in cheek look at some of the things that people do not like. Mike performed with an impish grin and there were giggles all around as he sang about things such as fussy eaters, festival toilets and botox. One of the biggest cheers of the night could be heard as he called the X Factor “a bunch of money-grabbing pricks”.
“I’ve been working on something new. I think you’ll like it”, Mike chuckled before breaking into a rendition of Daft Punk’s Get Lucky. Judging by this, I don’t think he was too bitter that Get Lucky beat Let Her Go to number one in the UK Charts this summer, and neither should he be, as his track was also a global success! As the delicate guitar chords of Let Her Go ebbed around the room, it caused a lot of cheering and of course, everyone knew the words. One of the songs of the summer and number one in fifteen countries; not bad for a song written backstage at a gig in the grand total of 45 minutes.
The support act, Stu Larsen, was welcomed back onto the stage as he helped in forming delicate harmonies for Hearts On Fire. Then came the request for everyone to put away their phones and cameras as Passenger performed new track Scare Away The Dark. This song is a slightly pessimistic look at the way that certain elements of technology have taken over in modern day society, as Mike delivered the poignant message of “Don’t spend your life seeing the world behind a tiny screen; instead, look to the stars.”