Sunday 23rd November saw Belfast put the Monday blues on hold for a few more hours and welcome instead two great acts in the form of Canadian folk band The Once and Passenger to the Waterfront Hall.
The sold out show introduced many of us in the crowd to the sounds of The Once for the first time. The three piece folk band (Geraldine Hollett, Andrew Dale and Phil Churchill), that have as of late received many awards, from being named the Newfoundland & Labrador Art Council’s Artist of the Year, winners of Canadian folk music awards and nominated for the Juno Best Roots/Traditional album, have been traveling around the likes of America, Europe, United Kingdom and soon to be flying out to Asia and Australia to continue the world tour, opening up for the always brilliant Passenger.
The Once from the offset showed off their immense talent to harmonise together through songs, they played through a truly powerful and passionate set of tracks, showcasing their new album Departures to the mesmerised crowd. Lead singer Geraldine Hollett’s stunning voice was a true highlight throughout the entire set, complimented as I have already pointed out by the brilliant harmonising of the band and the excellent meshing together of acoustic guitars, banjos and much more from the multi instrument playing Phil and Andrew, which provided the perfect musical backdrop to allow Geraldine’s voice to thrive.
The band kept the crowd entertained and challenged them to, in their own words, battle the “evil doctor awkward”, and join in singing the songs. They played through the likes of ‘The Town Where You Lived’, ‘Falling In Love With You’ (a brilliant cover of the classic Elvis song), and their first single from the new album, ‘We’re All Running’. One thing for sure is that judging by the amount of people I seen after the show holding their album, The Once have gained more than a few new fans after their performance, and Belfast will be looking forward to welcoming them back in May.
Up next came the unmistakable talent of Passenger, taking to the stage alone, accompanied only by his guitar and a backdrop made up of colourful animations taken from his Whispers album art work, that progressively told us a short love story. The set list saw Passenger play through a whole host of his songs dating back to his first few albums right up to the latest realised, playing through the likes of ‘Rolling Stone’, ‘Whispers’ and the mega hit ‘Let Her Go’.
The folk story teller created some memorable moments with the packed out Belfast crowd through his set, as during his song ‘Whisper’, he got the audience to take out their mobile phones or lighters, anything that created light, to illuminate the Waterfront Hall during the song, along with countless moments of sing-alongs with the crowd, most notably, and perhaps unsurprisingly, during ‘Let Her Go’. The set was a light-hearted, stripped back simplistic performance, seeing Mike tear down any invisible wall that may have separated the crowd from him and stop any real interaction from taking place, and instead joke and respond to comments and shouts made from the sold out audience.
What didn’t come as a surprise was the encore, in which the eager audience took no for an answer (not that Passenger would have ever shied away from doing one) as they sang until he stepped back on stage. For the three song encore however that ended with ‘Holes’, Passenger created another memorable moment when he invited The Once back on stage to play through a collection of classic songs meshed into a few minutes of pure musical nostalgia, as they played through Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’, Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Dancing in the Dark’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’. In the end one couldn’t help but feel lucky that these two great acts had not only come together for this world tour, but that we here in Belfast were lucky enough to have them stop off here to play for us all in what was a master class of how to put on a live show. Niall Donnelly, Gigging NI