Several times Wednesday night at Echostage, the cavernous establishment almost went silent. It was an accomplishment, considering the Northeast Washington club’s long bars, bottle-service tables and general atmosphere of concert-as-commerce.
The silence-bringer was Mike Rosenberg, also known as Passenger, an unimposing, Ed Sheeran-approved English folk-pop singer with a self-effacing attitude and a fan base willing to gently shush chatty bystanders. Did Rosenberg himself glare briefly at a pocket of noisy folks during “Fairytales & Firesides,” the we-all-long-for-something set opener? Maybe. Either way, the room got the message quickly.
Rosenberg also apologized, midstream, for the song’s first f-bomb — a cheeky gesture in the end, considering his facility for dropping the curse word into stage patter. “It blows my mind that 2,000 f---ing people are coming to my shows, and they’re actually quiet and listening,” he said at one point.
Sure, it was a docile crowd (young couples, dads and daughters, a sprinkling of folkies) but it would be unfair to undervalue Rosenberg’s ability to hold a room. Before rising quickly to prominence last year with “Let Her Go” — a slightly precious acoustic tune that has drawn Cat Stevens comparisons — he busked and played small venues for years. On Wednesday night, he embraced the role of seasoned entertainer.
Perhaps inevitably, he covered Simon & Garfunkel’s “Sounds of Silence,” but with idiosyncratic vocal phrasing and an arrangement that aggressively swelled at one point. It was impossible to sing along, but the audience had plenty of other chances for that, including another cover: Avicii’s megahit “Wake Me Up,” which served as a self-aware pop table-setter for “Let Her Go.”
Rosenberg mostly went it alone. He got some harmony help from opening act Stu Larsen during the pastoral “Heart’s on Fire” from this year’s album, “Whispers.” And during the encore, Larsen and the other openers, the indefatigably cheery Canadian trio the Once, were onstage for a respectful cover of John Prine’s “Angel From Montgomery.”
Forgoing a backup band put other songs from “Whispers” in a different light. Free of piano and strings, “Riding to New York” — about a lung-cancer victim’s last motorcycle trip — felt less contrived. And free of its generic studio jangle, the anti-fame manifesto “27” sounded more truthful.
The high point, at least in terms of crowd participation, was “Scare Away the Dark,” which closed out the main set. Rosenberg appended it with a “woah-oh-oh” sing-along that served, after he left the stage, as a replacement for the usual hand-clapping “we want more” routine. A few moments earlier, he had offered the lyrics, “You see, all I need’s a whisper in a world that only shouts.” A roomful of friendly faces will do nicely, too, of course.
Warminsky is a freelance writer.