Photo Credit: Francesca Fiorini Mattei
The warmly lit auditorium of Bristol’s Colston Hall was an inviting break from the bitter cold, with the promise of Passenger taking to the stage later making thoughts of the evening ahead even more appealing. The room was packed and alive with excited voices, with most people already crowding around the stage. The lights dimmed and support act Gregory Alan Isakov stepped out, acoustic guitar in hand. His short but sweet set silenced everyone from the beginning, proving the perfect introduction to the Passenger gig. The two acts produce quite similar music, both featuring an acoustic, folky sound. The slower, more dulcet tones of Gregory were more than enough to envelope everyone into the relaxed vibe of the evening, making him a genuine pleasure to watch.
We didn’t have to wait too long until the room darkened once more and Passenger took to the stage. The simple first notes of Somebody’s Love echoed across the room, building up the suspense before the rest of the band joined in. It was the perfect opening song, with the longer introduction proving to be the ideal lead into the gig. From the offset, Mike (aka Passenger) made it very clear just how grateful he was that everyone was there to support him. This became a running theme throughout the night, as he explained that only a few years ago he was busking to just a couple of people in the street. He seemed genuinely amazed at the size of the 1700 strong audience, joking that at his last Bristol gig at Thekla there was only “about twelve people”.
The talking interludes between songs were frequently the length of the songs themselves; definitely not a bad thing when the stories behind the songs are so fascinating. Before playing Travelling Alone he explained that it was inspired by an old Australian man who had watched him busk. The man had saved up his money all of his life to go travelling with his wife but shortly before their first flight, his wife passed away. He went on to take his year long trip alone. The incredible story-telling ability that Mike has, shown through both his songs and these interludes, was undeniably the factor that made the night so extraordinary. His songs themselves were beautiful to watch live, but the stories and his charismatic audience interaction added another layer of excitement. He has the amazing ability to break the hearts of everyone in the room with a story like that told before Travelling Alone, before then fixing everyone up again and making them laugh hysterically by launching into comical songs like I Hate (featuring lyrics like “And I hate queuing up for festival toilets / Especially when you need to shit”).
The set list featured gems from his previous releases, as well as fan favourites from most recent album Young as the Morning Old as the Sea. A particular highlight from the night was Mike’s solo section, which saw him perform a small selection of songs with only his acoustic guitar. These songs included incredible covers of Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence and Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. He put his own Passenger spin on each of the songs, making for two really incredible covers. Ain’t No Sunshine got the crowd moving a little, creating my favourite surprise entertainment from the night – some great dad dancing from almost every middle aged person in Colston Hall. In the unlikely event that Passenger would have been awful live, this fantastic dad dancing would genuinely have made up for it.
Having switched the show up a bit, Passenger finished up with his most popular songs. Let Her Go had every single person in the audience singing along, with Mike apologising if people were expecting to see “fairy princesses singing Let It Go instead”. As he went off stage for the encore the screams and shouts from the audience were immense, and quite unexpected considering that most people had spent the rest of the night quietly listening and contemplating his beautiful lyrics and voice. Holes was the final song, an uplifting and cheerful end to what Passenger had ensured was a night of music not to be forgotten soon.