LIVE – Passenger, Gregory Alan Isakov Eventim Apollo, Hammersmith

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“As you know, I’ve only got one song” says Mike Rosenberg, better known as Passenger, at the start of this sell-out London show; “best to address the elephant in the room right now. But”, he adds with some great comedy timing, “that song is called Let Her Go, not Let It Go. You don’t know the confusion that’s caused me! Maybe it’s because I look like some Disney princess.” This early exchange with an adoring crowd underlines a surprising extra dimension to Passenger’s live show. Not since I saw Chris Isaak in his prime in the early 90s have I laughed as much at a music gig. I expect the years of busking have given Rosenberg this impressive stage confidence.
Before his arrival, Colorado based singer Gregory Alan Isakov has the unenviable task of ‘warming-up’ the crowd. An introspective singer, whose career has been influenced by the likes of the late Leonard Cohen, it is a tough task to perform gentle acoustic songs over the murmuring masses. Isakov though has a strength of character that permeates through his songs and lyircs, and he manages to breakthrough the noisy haze to deliver a cracking opening set. Apparently when he was asked to join this tour he thought the idea of being on stage without his band would be “curious” and the singer is truly thankful for this opportunity. He has a touch of David Gray about him, as he strums through the likes of Let’s Put All These Words Away, before admitting that he will be back in the U.K. in the spring, albeit in ‘a much smaller venue than this!”
That endearing joke ends up setting us up nicely for the comedy patter to come from the main act, who is on superb form tonight. Opening with the delicious Somebody’s Love from his number one album Young As The Morning Old As The Sea, Passenger then mixes old and new with stories and jokes. There are many references to his days busking and also to his style of music, as he tells the crowd “don’t worry the misery is on the way” after an unusually upbeat opening salvo. And he’s not lying. As the band leaves him alone for a solo section, he shares the story behind the tearjerker Travelling Alone, which is about two encounters he had during his busking days. One involves an Australian man whose wife died just before they planned to travel the world together, who he met while busking to empty streets in Copenhagen. He asks for silence during the story and the song and manages to hold the thousands here in his palm.
As if to thank the crowd for their polite attention, a quick rendition of Sound of Silence follows, before we are back in amongst the newer material. All of it sounds terrific here, with Everything, Anywhere, Beautiful Birds and the album’s title track showing that Passenger’s music is growing with his popularity.
Another feature of his live shows is the almost legal requirement to singalong, and at one point we are told if we don’t know the words just make them up and later told (during I Hate) that if we don’t singalong we are racists. At times the comedy chat reminds me of the 90s comedian Jeremy Hardy. Perhaps if the singing career nosedives, Rosenberg will end up on a Radio 4 panel show. For now though it seems he is doing just fine. Older songs like 27 and Life’s For The Living precede the final flourish with Let Her Go (“oh you know this one” he cheekly says) and the wonderful Scare Away The Dark closes it, with the crowd singing their part through to the encore. A night to remember and a long way from those lonely streets of Copenhagen.

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