English singer-songwriter Mike Rosenberg finished off his latest Australian tour with a magical performance at the Fremantle Arts Centre on Sunday night.
Freo was destined to be the perfect place for former busker Passenger to lead his enraptured audience through not only a setlist of beautiful music but also a night of anecdotes and stories. His stage presence and open engagement with the audience allowed the crowd to truly connect with him. The venue inspired the artist to reflect on the good old busking times and for the crowd to take in the folky atmosphere. A “lovely bunch of people” sitting on picnic blankets with “a selection of dips” filled the hillside and listened as Passenger proved himself to be a great story-teller as well as a talent musician. He intertwined his songs with stories about the very beginnings as a busker, when he used to play for crowds of “1 to 8 people” and dwelled on past encounters that inspired the lyrics to this song or the next. This “inside information” added meaning to the songs and its lyrics by placing them into context and linking them with real people and feelings.
The music did the rest. Passenger showed his craftsmanship by producing pure, beautiful sounds and poppy melodies in that characteristic folk-guitar style. Passenger is a believer in real music, as he coins it, a phenomenon with which he treated the audience for over an hour. He began with Fairytales and Firesides, a song dating back to his early busking days and sleeping rough in hostels. He encouraged each and every one of the audience to enjoy life to the fullest with Life’s for the Living and shared the things he dislikes with his hilarious I Hate. The song was interspersed with witticisms, recounting how certain lyrics didn’t go down so well in Hollywood and how the X-Factor is ruining music. The crowd was also introduced to the wonderful melody of new song Beautiful Birds, a track yet unreleased. David and Travelling Alone became much more powerful through anecdotes on past experiences; the audience hung on his every word, whether he was talking about an old man drinking and smoking outside a cheap hostel in Glasgow, or an Australian widow travelling solo in Copenhagen after her husband’s death. A haunting cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence bled seamlessly (and hilariously) into a short rendition of Justin Bieber’s Sorry, for which Rosenberg apologized, before launching into hit song, Let Her Go. The audience couldn’t help but near drown out Rosenberg in the inevitable sing-along. There was scarce a dry eye or frown to be found on any face as the crowd sung “only know you love her when you let her go.”
“It’s just me and the guitar, Freo” Rosenberg mused at the beginning of his set. Well, I believe I can speak for the entire audience on that Sunday night when I say that he does not need to apologise, which he knows all too well, obviously. His frantic strumming releases so much energy it makes up for three supposedly missing bands. During one of his rather ecstatic guitar bashing moments he snaps a string, which was barely noticeable, afterwards quipping about giving himself a stitch. One would be inclined to believe him. His energy is contagious, his humour infectious and his wonderful lyrics and beautiful guitar melodies fit together snugly.
With final song Scare Away the Dark he conveys the message that even though the world is currently in a vulnerable state and it is easy to feel alone, we can stay strong together and care for each other. No wonder the outro was chanted for minutes and minutes after Passenger had already left the stage. He returned shortly and joined the crowd for another few chants.
Encore Holes had everybody dancing and singing one last time before ending the show with a big “I fucking love you Freo!” Rosenberg went from busking in deserted streets to playing in front of thousands. He shares his journey with us through his songs and stories, and keeps both feet well on the ground. We have to say: “We fucking love you too and we hope to see you again in Freo!”
-Words by Lisa Merta and Sascha Buttgereit