Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 15/4
support Gregory Alan Isakov
author HES date 16/10/16 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN
Back when Passenger released "All the Little Lights" I barely noticed it. His song "Let Her Go" pretty much went around the world forecasting him as the new hope of the folk singer-songwriter genre and I thought "well, this is relevant to my interests and went to see his 2013-show in Store Vega without knowing none but that one, horribly overplayed song. Much to my surprise this heavily bearded man had much more than catchy songs - he also had something quite rare: Soul. He was as much a storyteller as an artist and played a set pretty much making me certain he was our generation's Bruce Springsteen or Bob Dylan. He sang songs about watching too much porn, about the soullessness of a society living vicariously through a screen or how he hated people who talked during shows instead of listening. And I am in no way trying to say the experience I had that night of being blown back by sincerity was wrong - that is wasn't sincere or wonderful - it just seems to me that the originality of Passenger's later releases is dwindling and can't at all compare with what unfortunately is starting to seem as one lucky shot instead of a precursor for greatness. I didn't even bother to review his two latest releases after being so thoroughly disappointed by the first constellation of his double album release "Whispers". But I kept thinking that live, he would at least still have the flame I caught a mesmerizing glimpse of that one night. So here I am again - hoping to see it on a Sunday night at the same venue as the first time as that one mythical night.
Usually supported by a band Gregory Alan Isakov is an American singer/songwriter is that distinguished blue country sound that Passenger has a tendency of bringing along as support. His songs seem genuine which is the absolute minimum you could wish for in a singer/songwriter - but his American accent doesn’t afford a very distinguished pronunciation, which means it remains at a level that is pretty - but there isn’t much storyline or intention to follow.
When you’re a single person on stage this is pivotal for entertaining a crowd that is already only half-way invested to see you. The crowd is temporarily invested as Isakov plays a cover by the recent Nobel laureate Bob Dylan in the shape of "Mama You’ve Been on my Mind", but it seems the crowd then realizes that they don’t really know the song and re-kindle their disconnected conversation about beer prices. It’s pretty clear that Isakov is not without talent or showmanship, as he gets the crowd to sing along for the last lines of a song with the phrase "Let’s put all these words away" which is a beautiful sentiment, but unfortunately also the theme of tonight’s performance.
When Passenger has played sets in Denmark before he has been playing completely solo - but one of the reasons I came out tonight at all was because this tour is including a band. I am still hoping to somehow find something that can remind me of the immense talent I saw that one night in 2013. But already during the opener "Somebody’s Love" I see that this constellation is all kinds of wrong. Not used to having to "fight" the sound of a full band, Passenger or Mike Rosenberg, seems strained already at the boring country ballad from the latest disappointing release "Young as the Morning Old As the Sea" with bromidic chorus lyrics "Oh when the leaves they fall. You're gonna need somebody to call you. You're gonna need somebody's arms to crawl into". The next song, "Life’s For The Living" from that one brilliant 2012-album only manages to put this into even more contrast as a segue to the even worse "If You Go" with the lyrics "While stars they shine. While your heart is mine. Yeah while there's music and wine. Let us dance all the time. Let us pull down the stars. Let us tug on the lines. Let us smile ‘till we laugh. Let us laugh ‘till we cry. Let us fall in a heap. Under diamond skies". It’s pretty hard even imagining this is the same songwriter that once spellbound me with lines like "We put three sugars in our tea. Sit to watch too much daytime TV and laugh at mums who don't know who the father is. And all our girlfriends are long gone, we watch too much internet porn. Who needs love when you've got silicone and strap ons?. But that song, “Staring at the Stars”, is of course missing from the setlist. And even worse: So are the curse words and the line about a "spastic" dancing around in the rain. I’ve heard of artists having a radio-friendly version of a song for radio, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it in real life.
While Passenger still has the most odd and interesting voice, it seems to still be having problems combatting the sound of the band. Luckily Rosenberg gives the band a break to play a few songs solo and for "Traveling Alone" he tells a beautiful story and sings some beautiful lyrics - but as part of what seems to be a never-ending series of bad decisions Rosenberg then spends this, his best time, singing a Simon & Garfunkel cover, the same Simon & Garfunkel cover as the last 3 times: "The Sound of Silence" and yes, it is actually a pretty rad cover - but it’s a cover! By now Passenger has released 6 albums since 2010, so you would think he’d soon have enough material to not base his shows around cover songs. But little do I know: The worst is yet to come.
We do get a quick rendition of the raciest song of the night "I Hate" (which is probably only chosen because it has a "lalala"-chorus that’s easy to get everyone to sing along to) but the rest of the night seems part of a weird calypso-theme with forgettable songs like "Young As The Morning Old As The Sea", "Anywhere" and "Everything", before finally putting it to rest to the nauseating sound of the whole venue paying attention and singing along to the only song they know; "Let Her Go". But just as I think the worst is over, the most cheesy love-fest breaks out to Elton John’s "Can You Feel The Love Tonight". I’m not pulling your leg. This is not a joke. Not only is our time being wasted with songs that Rosenberg did write, but are awful - he also chose to waste our time with yet another, this time blatantly awful cover. The soundtrack to an artist having lost all faith in his own material as well as in challenging his audience.
As a serious music reviewer, you don’t ever want to write a review like this. First off, it might come off as fun to read but underneath all of this annoyance, that might seem like me trying to be funny, is a very deeply rooted sadness over artists that spark up your faith, only to find out the artists themselves don’t share that faith. All night tonight Passenger is trying so very hard to upstage his jokes from last time, that he has reused now for four years. And I’d be forgiving of that if it wasn’t for him never ceasing to remind us how much his life has changed since he had that one hit: It’s so very clear that even though things seem changed, they are at a standstill: Rosenberg seems to have lost all nerve and bravery from back when he was playing the streets. He seems so thankful that he’s finally living his dream, that he is simultaneously trying not to scare any new follower away and thus washing away everything that made people follow him to begin with. Musically the night is sloppy and seems unrehearsed, Rosenberg and his band seem at odds about the focus; his voice or the composition. The crowd seems slightly drunk and only here to record Snapchat videos. And I just wish I hadn’t stayed for the encore rendition of one of my favourite songs, "Holes". Goddammit.