By Benjamin Peel
Walking into the Hammersmith Apollo to see Passenger (Michael Rosenberg) last Saturday one of the first things I noticed was how wide the age range was, probably covering 7 to 70. I guess it’s a testament to his appeal that he can attract that sort of a crowd plus a number one album this year helps. I was particularly intrigued to see how the addition of a live band would be managed after having built a reputation for emotion heavy solo performances.
On supporting duty was Gregory Alan Isakov and in a (hopefully) intentional role-reversal to the main act, he was playing solo, though commonly appearing with a backing band. Despite a talkative and occasionally distracted crowd, when he hit home emotionally Isakov made the venue feel surprisingly small and personal – no small feat when you’re sharing a space with 5,000 strangers. He’s is clearly a guy who enjoys sharing his music with a crowd and is an engrossing storyteller.
One of the highlights was ‘She Always Takes it Black’ and when the stripped back Americana/Folk sound worked, things got pretty emotional. I still felt at times the strength of Isakov’s voice begged to be matched by a full band. We were treated to a short 30 minute set but I would have loved to listen for far longer and with an upcoming album next year there may well be the opportunity.
After the intimate performance provided by Isakov, Passenger dashed onto stage with an energetic start, showing that he knows exactly how to re-shape his sound to the full band set-up. Rosenberg was quick to acknowledge that his relatively happy start to the show was hardly in keeping with his previous more melancholy performances. He intersperses lots of personal stories, jokes and created a real bond with the crowd.
After the high energy start, the band were given a rest and Rosenberg returned to his familiar territory of went it alone. Such is his control of a crowd’s emotions that during the truly moving ‘Travelling Alone’ and cover of ‘The Sound of Silence’ that there wasn’t a whisper among the transfixed audience.
With the band back onstage, the mood was changed once again and a chance for the crowd to get involved, singing along in every song.
Rosenberg acted humble despite the size of crowd and is someone that clearly appreciates where he has got to in the last few years. Clearly he still can’t believe the trajectory he is on after many years of busking.