Eclectic human masses slowly oozed into the historic Fox Theater in Oakland on a Thursday evening. The opening acts of the night were short bursts of vocally-driven songs that filled the entire theater with humming, “oohs,” and “ahhs” which set up the headliner’s performance perfectly. However, the audience remained mostly empty and fairly quiet as Stu Larsen, the first performer, stepped out on stage without catching much attention of the crowd.
He filled the space well with stories about how he came to be performing in front of the Californians swaying in the room, acknowledging a camaraderie between himself and the headliner, Mike Rosenberg, aka Passenger. Though the performance was heartfelt and a genuine testament to his album and talent as a stage performer, those who actually watched remained quiet, and the rest that filled the room waddled between the bar and conversations not pertaining to the Australian on stage.
The brief start and end to his four-song set did not lift from the crowd much of a reaction, but The Once stepped on stage and quickly changed the apathy hanging in the theater. Initiating their performance with an a cappella rendition of “Coming Back To You,” the Canadian folk trio entranced the audience with beautiful harmonies for the rest of the evening.
With each artist came more time in the set to speak about the songs they were about to perform. There was a moment like this when Geraldine Hollett begins to introduce their song, “The Town Where You Live,” by stating that “sometimes in life bad things happen,” to which a crowd member responded, “every fucking day!” The entire theater was in an uproar of laughter before Andrew Dale closed off the conversation: “this whole show is dedicated to you buddy,” and then checked on this attendee for the rest of their set. It was this type of free, off-the-cuff, folklore type conversation between the Newfoundland-based performers themselves and the members of the crowd that became a running theme through the evening and made the show seem a little more personal, rather than just the Bay-area leg of their current tour.
When finally Mike Rosenburg humbly took centerstage, he was backlit by warm reds and oranges. He adorned a stupefied look when faced with the size and grandeur of The Fox Theater, on which he commented at the end of his set: “I love that I can come to beautiful venues like this and play to people who actually give a shit about music.”
The first words that rang into the microphone were not that of Rosenberg’s music, but rather a joke, preparing the crowd for the performance they were to expect. “Let’s be honest, I’ve only got one hit single,” he joked, “My job tonight is to make you as miserable as possible!” It was this type of humor that proliferated his set in between songs. As a one-man show, he begged and yelled at the crowd to clap along and sing as loud as possible, particularly on songs like “Let Her Go,” “I Hate,” and “Holes,” while shushing the crowd during others.
Having seen Passenger perform previously — just after the release of his first album and his first US Tour on the road with Ed Sheeran, it seemed as though from that moment to the moment he stepped into The Fox Theater, Rosenberg had undergone a full evolution from his timid, barely-there stage presence to the confidence that filled the stage several nights ago with an undeniable attraction to his talent. Passenger as an enigma of musical storytelling and passion is unapologetically talented now that he has morphed into the true artist he always had the capacity to be.
Article by Samantha Putt
Photos by Luke Sheard