Mike Rosenberg performing at the 9:30 Club.
I have been in love with Mike Rosenberg, more commonly known by his stage name Passenger, and his gentle, heartbreaking, poetic songwriting since I first heard “Let Her Go” on the radio in 2013. Although many know him only for “Let Her Go,” a listen to any of Rosenberg’s eleven albums will demonstrate that he is much more than his only hit song. Given my long time fascination with his lyrics and melodies, I was delighted to hear that my five-year long wish to see Rosenberg live would come to fruition on Tuesday, Oct. 16, at the 9:30 Club.
Armed with only a guitar, his voice, and a looping station, Rosenberg surprised the audience, who, like me, was expecting a nice, quiet, folksy night. I was honestly nervous that his performance would be on the duller side; although his lyrics are thoughtful and inspired, there are only so many acoustic patterns to cycle through before some songs begin sounding the same. Rosenberg’s performance was, however, anything but repetitive and dull. He was witty and humorous not only during the interludes between songs, but also all throughout his performance. He vamped up his songs, using the looping system to blast energetic kick drums and lights on songs, bringing a new energy to the typical singer-songwriter ballad.
Because he was alone, Rosenberg had complete creative control over his performance, often adapting on the spot. During a quiet song, when not a single soul in the audience dared to breath heavily, much less speak, Rosenberg stopped the song for half a moment to send a jesting side-eye to a woman who started talking a few feet from the stage. His playful performance and continuous flexibility created a dialogue between him and the audience. Although the venue was busy, there was a genuine sense of camaraderie that was encouraged and grown by Rosenberg’s interactions and performances. The girl next to me, who I did not know at all before the concert, became my best friend as she grabbed my arm and sang along with me about all the things Rosenberg hates: “racist blokes telling tasteless jokes,” people who “only eat pizza and chips,” “magazines aimed at insecure teens,” and of course, “pointless status updates on facebook (FYI we were never m8s).”
During the quieter moments, the audience listened to Rosenberg tell his stories. The audience was his confidant as he shared the story behind one of his newer songs, “To Be Free,” which is about his grandparents, Jewish refugees who escaped the Holocaust for New Jersey: “They left the Rhineland they / Lost their homeland, and / all their family... Like Heather on the hillside/ They were bruised and they were battered by the breeze / searching for a place / to be free.”
He also sang a new, unreleased song, “Suzanne,” trusting the audience with the secret of his new music: trusting us to just listen. The performance was about mutual trust and respect. We were part of a magical dialogue.
Still, like most concerts in today’s climate, the night was not just about the music. The final song Rosenberg sang before his encore was “Scare Away the Dark.” The song itself preaches, “Well, sing, sing at the top of your voice / Love without fear in your heart / Feel, feel like you still have a choice / If we all light up we can scare away the dark.” He introduced the song as a call for unity in an ever-divided world. He changed the second verse to sing about issues of health care, immigration, and lack of understanding and connection in modern politics. At the end of the song, the audience joined in to sing along for his signature “lalalas.” But the singing continued after he left the stage. Partly in hope for an encore and partly swept up by the feeling of unity, we sang at the top of our voices, “Sing it out, now!” until Passenger came back on stage. There was something absolutely profound about looking around and feeling part of something unexpected: unity with people you have never met.
The show only confirmed what I have always believed so strongly about Rosenberg: more than anything, he is a storyteller. His songs have always spoken to me for how they make me think about the world and the way we live our lives. Passenger’s performance was personal and passionate. Maybe it is his general production style, but to the audience, it felt like it was all just for us.
Gorfine is an International Politics Freshman.
PC: Alexis Gorfine.