(By: Emma Johnston-Wheeler)
Michael Rosenberg, better known by his stage name Passenger, is a man of charm and well…immaculate manners. The English singer/songwriter had an incredible stage presence during his show at Rebel on Mar. 15.
Following an opening performance by Australian indie rock-folk band The Paper Kites, Rosenberg emerged on the stage with the familiarity of a person whose spent every day of their life in concert.
Let’s clarify something before we continue, said Rosenberg, whose most famous for his hit song “Let Her Go.”
“‘Let Her Go,’ not to be confused with Disney’s ‘Let It Go,’” said Rosenberg. “That movie has ruined my fucking life.”
Before Rosenberg wrote “Let Her Go,” his life was very different, he told the audience. Prior to the launch of his stage career, he spent five years busking. He didn’t play in these massive wonderful venues. Instead, he stood in town squares and street corners in Europe and Australia.
“I got to travel the world and meet tons of amazing people,” said Rosenberg. “There were some really miserable moments too where I’d be sitting in a hostel somewhere, so far away from all the people I loved. So I wrote this song to sort of cheer myself up and remind myself why I started playing songs in the first place – to try and connect with people.”
Fans who’ve been attending Passenger gigs for a long time will be familiar with the first song of Wednesday’s performance – an older song, “Life’s For The Living,” followed by “If You Go.”
“Even if you don’t know the words Toronto, make them up!” shouted Rosenberg.
He dedicated his next song “27” to anyone in the audience who had ever sat on their bed thinking “What am I doing?” – a feeling he has been able to relate to.
“Are you having a good night, Toronto?” he asked. His question was met with cheer.
“Good. It’d be very awkward if you said no.”
Up to this point the concert had been pretty upbeat, which is not usually the case with Passenger, whose goal on any other night would appear to be to have his audience in tears. In fact, it’s not unlikely that Passenger concertgoers would show up with the exact intent of crying in the dark.
Of course Rosenberg realized this at just about the same time the audience did and cued a more depressing song – one made popular during his 2015 Australia/New Zealand tour, a track called “Everything.”
When Rosenberg was writing this one, he kept going back to this weird feeling that in society having loads of money and being famous results in happiness.
“I think that being happy is actually really simple,” he said. “It’s spending time with people that you love.”
Switching out his electric for an acoustic, Rosenberg asked the audience to get quiet for a story and began recounting how he came to write his song “Traveling Alone” about two people he met while still busking his way through Europe.
“I turned up in Copenhagen, Denmark, and the sun was shining for the first time in Scandinavian history,” he shared.
Within 26 seconds of playing, the police came over and told Passenger to stop selling his CDs. He returned to his hotel dejected and eventually made his way out to a place where the police couldn’t find him, which as he recalls unfortunately meant that no one else could find him either.
He began playing regardless and an old man came and sat very still against the wall in front of him, closing his eyes.
“He sat there for a long time and for a minute I was worried that my music was so boring that I’d killed him,” Passenger joked to the audience.
“It was quite a moment that there was this one guy that really wanted to just be there and hear my songs.”
Passenger wrote the first half of “Traveling Alone” from everything that the old man told him that day.
This old man from Australia had made a deal with his wife to go see the world when their kids grew up. They planned the trip of a lifetime but just a few months before they were meant to leave, his wife fell ill and died.
“This man,” said Rosenberg, “was in his 70s and had just lost his best friends and lifetime partner and still decided to go on this trip.
“I couldn’t stop thinking about this guy and his situation,” he said. Rosenberg wrote everything down so he could make it into a song, only he wasn’t sure how to finish it without adding anything that wasn’t right from the old man’s story.
A few weeks later Rosenberg was in Switzerland.
“This woman sat next to me, I played her my song and she burst into tears,” he said. “Her boyfriend of ten years had just broken her heart.”
As Rosenberg saw it, the two strangers’ stories seemed to have a very similar projector about them. He ended up writing the second half of “Traveling Alone” about the woman from Switzerland.
Rosenberg followed that song up with “Sound of Silence,” which concluded with a guitar solo. Bringing the band back, Rosenberg switched back to something a little more laid back before building up again with “Young as the Morning, Old as the Sea.” Then, he went even slower with “Beautiful Birds” before picking things up with fan favourite “Let Her Go.”
“I never know what to say about that song anymore,” said Rosenberg. “I think because I did come from busking, I never thought it was possible for me to have a hit single so massive. I’ve followed it around the world.”
“Time for one last song?” he teased.
“For anybody who has been watching or reading the news this last little while,” he said. “If you walk away from it feeling like the world is falling apart, we don’t have to listen, we don’t have to agree with decade of bullshit, and we don’t have to blame minorities for everything that’s happening in the world.” This introduction segued into his song “Scare Away the Dark.”
The band thanked the audience once last time, waving and walking off the stage, but the crowd kept singing the song. The stage lights went out and still then the crowd kept singing until eventually the enthusiasm for an encore was so great that Passenger had no choice but to come back out for not one, but two more songs.
He brought it “home” for the end of one incredible night with his single “Home.”
“You get enough people that care about something in one room and you produce something magical,” said Rosenberg, cueing his last and final song of the night, “Holes.”
There is no doubt that Rosenberg had made the night magical for his fans.
(Header photo via Live Nation and Greetsia Tent/WireImage)