I wrote a rather disparaging review of a Passenger concert about four years ago. Since them I’ve seen him a few more times — opening for Ed Sheeran at Mount Smart Stadium, busking in Aotea Square, and in that time I’ve come to regret the harsh things I wrote about him after seeing him, for the first time, at the Civic.
Last night Passenger — Mike Rosenberg to his mates — played Auckland’s Powerstation, there to plug his new album, Runaway, his tenth. Alone on the stage, just a singer with his acoustic guitar, standing in the spotlights and behind a microphone stand, Passenger is a slight physical presence but a huge personality. Rosenberg genuinely seems to enjoy singing — the way he talks about his songs, from Dave, written about a homeless bloke he got to know when he was playing in Glasgow many years ago, to I Hate, literally a litany of things he hates, brings his audience into his songs, engages them and charms them. There’s a story behind every song, a story told with charm and self-effacing wit.
And then there’s the voice. That first review, the one I wrote after seeing Passenger play at the Civic, focused on his voice. It’s an odd thing, Passenger’s singing voice. Distinctly different from his speaking voice, it has a distinctly warbly quality to it, and it can — trust me here, it really can — take a little getting used to. So clearly I’m getting used to it, clearly it’s growing on me. The more I listen to Passenger sing, the more I like what I here, and last night I was finally converted.
That he can write a good song helps, too. He sang Let Her Go, of course — it’s his one truly big hit, and deservedly so, and the sold-out audience at the Powerstation took care of the chorus for him. He sang Scare Away The Dark, the audience chanting the whoas of the chorus as he left the stage at the end of his main set, only 11 songs long but filled out with chat. He sang I Hate, as good as song as any for getting the audience on your side. He also sang The Sound Of Silence, a number he’s been including in his live shows for a number of years and his reworking of which, I still feel, doesn’t quite work; it’s just, ironically for a singer who usually sings with an astonishing warmth and delicacy, a little too intense. He also sang Suzanne, a new number that, it appeared, he was trying out on an Auckland audience before recording it. He even managed an encore — just the one song, Dancing In the Dark, the Bruce Springsteen hit, even though the set list also had Holes as a second number — despite apologising, not that we noticed, for having a cold.
But then, he genuinely seems to like New Zealand. Yes, every artist who plays here insists that “Auckland, you guys are the best,” but then I bet they say that to all the boys. But, unlike, say, Taylor Swift, who came to New Zealand to film the video for Out Of The Woods on Bethells Beach, but who neglected to actually play any shows while she was touring down here at the time, Passenger gives the impression that he actually has a more genuine fondness for the country where he recorded his 2016 album Young As The Morning, Old As The Sea.
There’s no denying Passenger is an acquired taste. His singing style is, at the very least, singular. But I do believe, after last night’s show, that I have acquired it.