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Canadian folk trio The Once may have been largely unknown to the audience as they took to the stage to open for Passenger, but they very quickly won hearts with their high energy, quirky sound. After opening with an a cappella cover of Leonard Cohen’s Coming Back to You, and having a quick back-and-forth with some members of the audience who could not control their lust for guitar man Phil Churchill’s wondrous beard, the trio played through a variety of their own numbers, as well as a few more covers, including classic Elvis number Can’t Help Falling in Love.
Churchill admitted they were well aware of how difficult it is to, “actually give a s**t about the support band”, and joked about, “the evil overlord Awkwardness” who shows up to ruin gigs, and ended their set with an audience sing off, which managed to go down well.
The Once performed their warm up duties well, and by the time Passenger took to the stage, the crowd was already pumped and screaming. He needed little introduction to have people singing along to 2014 number Rolling Stone. After acknowledging that it was possibly the most depressing start to a gig ever, he went on to make a few jokes about his jeans, possibly mistaken for leggings by some, and quipped that now he looks like, “some kind of hipster bird.”
Following his banter, he launched into older hit Life’s for the Living, during which he had a moment of breathlessness, something that would happen several times during the evening. He later admitted to being a smoker most of his life, and told a sobering yet beautiful story of a desperate 3am cigarette craving, a grandfather on a motorbike travelling to see his family one last time, and the inspiration for song Riding to New York.
Following a cover of Simon and Garfunkle’s Sound of Silence, the mood finally lifted again when he had the crowd stand and sing along to I Hate, where fans cheered loudly at the opportunity to mutually hate things like Facebook updates and The X Factor.
In perhaps a bold move not to save his biggest (and self-proclaimed only) hit for the encore, he played Let Her Go to rousing applause and cheers, before taking a few minutes to tell the story of the song. Penned after a particularly terrible gig, and in only 45 minutes, Passenger admitted that since it’s, “That One Song Everyone Knows”, it can be easy to phone it in and play the number on muscle memory. However, he seemed genuine when he said that this was one of the few gigs that reminded him of why he wrote the song.
After closing on single Scare Away the Dark, and departing the stage, the audience broke into spontaneous song, the swell growing louder and louder until he finally returned with Things That Stop You Dreaming, before inviting The Once back to combine forces for a Van Morrison/Springsteen/Fleetwood Mac cover medley, and finally closing on 2012 single Holes.
Passenger’s propensity towards candour is probably what most sets him apart from all the other indie guys with a beard, guitar, and serviceable voice. With only a single “big hit” that still consistently gets radio play, it would be easy for him to fade into obscurity and play bland and predictable gigs. It’s not just his songs that keep the audience’s attention, but his stories, his playful banter, and his willingness to engage rather than simply perform.