Gig review: Passenger @ Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge

“The church was made for gigs like this” exclaimed Stu Larson as he gazed out over the audience heads, up into the lofty heights where the early summer sun crept through cobwebbed stained glass. While probably not technically true, you’d have been hard pushed to find anyone in attendance disagreeing by the end of the night. Mike Rosenberg, aka Passenger, had found his way back to Cambridge for the next leg of his ‘All the Little Lights’ UK tour, and a sold out congregation at the Emmanuel United Reformed Church were more than happy to welcome him. With a seemingly constant tour schedule; Passenger has only recently arrived back in the UK after a long stretch with our ancestral friends down under, a place where he’s acquired a huge following over the years. And who can blame them? Back on home shores he’s selling out gigs across the island, recently supported Ed Sheeran on tour and is set for a number of European and festival dates over the summer, including our very own Secret Garden Party. For now though, as a murmur of anticipation chattered around the church walls, it was Cambridge’s turn.Stu Larsen is your traveller’s traveller. With a twitter bio of ‘exploring and wandering’ and ‘no fixed address’ as his location; you have a clear indication of the lifestyle he leads. Opening with ‘Seaforth Mackenzie’, he sings gently of the Australian author and the open road, a theme that resonates through his work. Close your eyes as Stu Larsen sings and you’ll find yourself in the subject of his songs; be it a roadside campfire, the boulevards of San Francisco or following a cross country train underneath huge skies. A soothingly rustic voice combined with his guitar and harmonica makes for Dylan-esque sounds, and as his face contorts underneath his shaggy blonde hair he uses his guitar to tap himself a beat, lost in the song. A beautifully stripped back cover of ‘Fix You’ came next, before childhood dreams of escape into the wider world arrived in the form of ‘The Mile’ – dreams of a life he’s now living. As Larsen rounded off his set with the bluesy ‘This Train’, taken off the wonderful EP ‘Ryeford’, with his voice lingering above the alter, it was clear a pretty special evening had begun.
Next up was Cambridge born Ethan Ash; who with his cheeky chappy persona and a seemingly never ending supply of good tunes and jelly babies, has already picked up quite the local following. ‘Would You Mind’ set the tone for his set; songs of life and love, often unrequited, with a fantastically soulful voice which often verges on the falsetto. Ash has a distinctive punchy guitar playing style to accompany the voice, both of which were perfectly suited to his cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s ‘As long as I can see the light’. Enthusing the crowd into sing-alongs on more than one occasion, while providing a smattering of comic tales in between, he makes use of the stage well – his is a well honed act. A series of sentimental songs was closed off with ‘All I need’ – his jaunty folk style going down just as well as the aforementioned jelly babies which were now in crowd circulation. Having also supported Ed Sheeran, as well as the likes of Seth Lakeman and Newton Faulkner in recent times – Ethan Ash is clearly a name to watch out for.In a market seemingly saturated with folksy type fellows and their acoustic guitars, it can often take something a bit special to stand out above the crowd. Passenger does just that. Arriving on stage to rapturous applause, Rosenberg eyed up his surroundings – “a bit delightful this isn’t it?” – and set about a quite brilliant set. Commenting on life as it passes him by is the inspiration behind much of his work and as a result, characters he meets along the way feature heavily in his songs. Set opener ‘David’ tells the poignant tale of an ageing hostel dweller in Glasgow, while later on ‘Bullets’ evokes further pity – his ability to create a character in the audience’s head is uncanny. As Passenger moves through his set; intertwining the laid back, more humorous numbers with more melancholy songs of heartache, he takes the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions. Having to curtail the normal obscenities in ‘The Rain’ and ‘I Hate’ due to his surroundings just adds to the hilarity of both, while in between songs, comic anecdotes help build up a picture of his subjects. Rosenberg’s voice is a distinct one, and there’s a rawness to his lyrics as emotive love songs, or in most cases failed love songs, ‘Wide Eyes’ ‘Patient Love’ ‘Underwater Bride’ come and go. In a set list compromised mostly of audience requests, we’re treated to songs both old and new, including an as yet untitled track which sets a scene of lakes, forests and snow covered mountains. Prior to this was a simply stunning cover of Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘Sound of Silence’ – itself a perfectly accurate description of the audience’s attention for these quieter numbers. As Rosenberg abandons the microphone once again to sing from within the audience; a hand clutches at his chest as he stomps the floor with eyes screwed tightly shut – it’s stirring stuff.
A rendition of ‘Life’s for the Living’ came next, summing up Passengers attitude to life and his refusal to conform to the “blind man’s forage, where they take your dreams down and stick them in storage”, instead opting for the troubadour lifestyle he leads. Described in the dictionary as both a ‘a poet who writes verse to music’ and ‘a strolling minstrel’, troubadour is a word you’d quite happily apply to both Mike Rosenberg and the nomadic Stu Larsen, who then joined him on stage for a duet of ‘Your Heart’s on Fire’. Finishing off his set was another new song, ‘27’, and another confirmation of his wish to do things on his terms. A refusal to sign to a label and make his way independently being testament to this. Leaving the stage to a huge standing ovation, Rosenberg quickly returned to lead the audience through an almost gospel like rendition of another new album track, ‘Holes’, and as Rosenberg’s voice soared up into the church roof and the audience sang as one, it was pretty clear he was preaching to the converted.


3 thoughts on “Gig review: Passenger @ Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Cambridge

  1. Pingback: A soundtrack to travel « A social grumble

  2. Pingback: A soundtrack to travel | ally rambles

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