From the very first opening at Kunst!Rasen some years ago now when the late, great, Lou Reed took the stage, the opening show seems to have always been, in my memory anyway, on a bright and sunny day. The 2017 opener Passenger + guests appeared on my cellphone calender though along with a storm warning. Thankfully it turned out , as the Bard said, much ado about nothing. Cool music at the end of a hot day in fact.
For the record, the first voice out of the Kunst!Rasen microphone in 2017 belonged to an Australian. Stu Larsen’s Facebook page gives his present location as ‘No fixed address‘ and indeed he has been busking around the world for a good many years now. That’s actually how Larsen came to be here this evening. Mike Rosenberg, to give Passenger it’s ‘real’ name since the band of that name split up, first met Larsen when the two were busking around Australia. When Rosenberg went on to playing stadiums Larsen became a regular support artist. His pleasant spot at 6.30 pm as people began arriving for the show had me reflecting on whether it was fate, talent or some combination of the two that decides who stays on the streets and who moves into stadiums. It made me look forward to Rosenberg’s set all the more to see what the magic ‘X Factor’ ingredient might be.
In between Larsen and his long term travelling companion there was a bit of rocking to be done. You might think, given their name, that Kensington would be a London based Rock combo. You would be wrong. This explosive little Rock troop actually hail from Utrecht although their music does have a British Indie-Pop feel about it to be sure. Frontman Eloi Youssef certainly looked like an angry young man whenever he caught my camera lens pointed in his direction. The tatoo on his arm cites Joni Mitchell and in an interview with Jazz & Rock recently he cites Frank Sinatra as “Probably the best singer of all time” so Youssef is evidently a man with a broad palette of influences but the Soundgarden one is the most obvious onstage tonight. Would love to see this band in a small and sweaty club with the sound turned up loud. 7.30 pm on a blindingly sunny field and with an eye always on the volume is not where they shine but they did manage to sparkle enough for me to want to hear more.
Ask me what sort of musicians I most admire and I would answer those who can stand on a stage with just an acoustic guitar singing a quiet song that captivates a big audience into attentive silence from the front row to the back of the bar. Ed Sheeran is the prime modern example and I just knew that Jack Savoretti would go on to greater things when I heard the silence at a concert supporting Madison Violet. There’s nothing better to grab attention of course than a hit single and Passenger has that, as Mike Rosenberg jokingly says here tonight “It’s called ‘Let her go’. Not to be confused with ‘Let it go’ (from Disney’s ‘Frozen’) I get a lot of disappointed little children at my concerts!” Not many disappointed adults though I’m sure. Trying to identify where I’ve seen this sort of charisma before, the name Hugh Grant pops into my head. That disarming, shy humour that is distinctly British.
As opposed to his last visit here this was a full band concert although from the deep photo pit they were all but invisible. Musically they did a good job of colouring in the background to Rosenberg’s well drawn songs and well chosen covers like ‘Sound of Silence’ where Rosenberg praised the crowd for remaining quiet (it seems his measure of a great crowd is the same as my measure of a great musician). He is humble about his success, saying how grateful he is that ‘Let her go’ “Opened everything up for me”. It was winner of a Brit Award for best single in 2014 and put him in a position to record with top pop acts like Birdy on ‘Beautiful Birds’. Rosenberg even apologizes that Birdy isn’t joining him to sing it tonight.
At heart though Passenger is a busker with a great collection of songs and stories to tell and he’s at his best onstage alone doing just that, as he does with ‘Riding to New York’. It’s inspiration is from a man dying of lung cancer but motorcycling as many roads as he can from west to east coast before the big ‘C’ forces him off the highway. Sung of course to complete silence in front of 2000+ people. For ‘Hearts on Fire’ he calls Stu Larsen up on stage to join him. A fellow traveller on Rosenberg’s own highway. As he described when talking of his song ’27’ earlier, it’s important to follow your dream. Why doing so brought Mike Rosenberg here to headline in front of 2000 people whilst it brought Stu Larsen here to musically greet them coming in at 6.30 is maybe a matter of extra talent, maybe the ‘luck’ of a hit single or maybe a more complex career ‘gameplan’ who can tell. At the end of this sunny, storm free evening by the river Rhine both played a part in making Kunst!Rasen 2017 concert #1 an evening to remember pleasantly and let’s not forget Kensington either, all in all a great start with great things still to come from Bonn’s open-air season.