Mike Rosenberg can walk down the busy streets of New York City, past a line of fans waiting outside the Gramercy Theater for his own concert, and still go unnoticed.
His unassuming presence is on par with most singer-songwriter archetypes. He still takes the time to stop and speak with the few fans who do notice him – the person behind the stage name (Passenger) they came to see.
Passenger, as a project, started as a folk-rock band containing Rosenberg and a collection of other members from 2003 to 2009 when the group broke up. Rosenberg, the primary songwriter and lead singer, maintained the stage name when he continued on solo.
After gaining notoriety in Europe and a successful run as opening act for Ed Sheeran, Rosenberg set sights on the United States. His song “Let Her Go” eased its way onto the summer charts, earning enough attention to ensure his Aug. 23 performance was sold out.
Rosenberg prefaces most songs with a story, though he constantly apologizes for doing so. He’ll tell the crowd about the people and places that inspired the writing of most songs. It might annoy some people, but I like the chance to get a look into his process a bit more.
Though he didn’t play much off his most recent album All The Little Lights, the crowd appreciated anything they could sing along to. When he played “I Hate,” his list-like anthem of things he cannot stand, the sound of the audience’s off-key singing was deafening.
A highlight of the night came when Rosenberg played one of his newest, yet-unreleased songs “Scare Away The Dark.” He asked the crowd to put away their cell phones and cameras, remarking that many people view events like concerts through the lens of technology.
The song urges audiences to choose to be more present, and hokey as it sounds, there’s something beautiful about a truly engaged crowd singing along to that sentiment.
Rosenberg originally made a name for himself in the folk and busking communities around the U.K. and Australia, making the money he could from charitable donations on the streets. He still busks, though he doesn’t really need the money, trying to schedule smaller-scale shows a few hours before or after his tour gigs.
On Saturday, Aug. 24, he performed around noon to a decently-sized crowd in Washington Square Park. He played a shorter version of his night setlist, his opening act Stu Larson collaborating with gorgeous harmonies on his song “Hearts On Fire.”
Both performances really reminded me why I try to get out to folk shows every few weeks. There’s nothing like a night of insightful, empathetic songwriting.