The Paper Kites were a welcome way to kick off the evening, assailing the audience with an assortment of folk-rock numbers that gave a clear indication of what the night held. Lead singer Sam Bentley bemoaned the lack of security, dryly commenting that Passenger concerts are known to attract rioters. It was a light-hearted start to the night, which continued into a potent mix of resigned and dour lyrics. Bentley’s stylish guitar work was expertly backed by the rustling of tambourine and the persistent hum of keyboard, his bandmates’ backing vocals adding a decisive flair. The Paper Kites left me feeling wistful, stirring up feelings of nostalgia, intrigued for what was to come. Delicate fingepicking and restrained drumming made fine complements to Bentley’s tender singing, while the keyboardist certainly looked to be in his element among the swaying trees and airy keys. As an entrée, they were the caviar to the filet mignon.
Passenger (AKA Michael Rosenberg) provided everything you could want out of a concert. He was a thoroughly enjoyable entertainer as well as a virtuosic musician, spending almost as much time regaling the crowd with his musings as performing. His rapport included everything from the occasional heartbreaking stories behind his songs to self-deprecating displays, his heart going out to those who paid for tickets expecting an entirely sad old time. The laid-back atmosphere of the venue- the open air of the Fremantle Arts Centre‑ artfully bedded the smooth folk tones. When joined by a full band, the soundscape was intoxicating, a cascade of drums, keyboard and gripping lyrics. When the man himself calmed things down for a more intimate display of simply himself and his guitar, things got reflective and deeply personal.
It was readily apparent that Passenger felt a deep affinity for the town of Fremantle, namedropping it across his repertoire, much to the glee of spectators. My favourite aspect of reviewing music is seeing performers really embrace the crowd, drink in the atmosphere with glee. Rosenberg was as funny as he was talented, never failing to produce laughs from the spectators with talk of his busking (and life) experiences. Humble when speaking of the unexpected success of Let Her Go, I found myself appreciating its live rendition far more than its recorded counterpart, which doesn’t do much for me. Travelling Alone, an acoustic, achingly beautiful affair, was made even more affecting due to the nature of its conception, told with care and compassion for its subjects. At one point the area was flooded with hundreds of phone flashlights as Passenger’s warm voice wound its way through the cool night air, making for a surreal sight. Things ended with perhaps the most rousing pre-encore call I’ve heard, the audience continuing the refrain from the finale until the band returned. The good vibes that pervaded from the leading man’s irrepressible manner spilled out into the streets long after the music died, a fitting end to an uplifting, soulful encounter that won’t soon be forgotten.