The 500 fans of British pop-folkie Passenger (a.k.a. Mike Rosenberg) who packed Nashville's Mercy Lounge last night to see the singer-songwriter perform his breakout hit "Let Her Go" and other favorites got quite a surprise when Rosenberg's friend and biggest champion, Ed Sheeran, made an impromptu appearance. During the encore the pair, with help from Passenger tour manager and show opener Stu Larson, performed their tender duet "Hearts on Fire," along with a spirited, coffeehouse-style cover of Blackstreet's Nineties R&B classic "No Diggity" that included a crowd-pleasing snippet of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' hit "Thrift Shop."
During "No Diggity" – their version of which was itself a hit on Australian radio – Sheeran's already rosy cheeks were flush as he sang, smiled and clapped along, much like most in the audience.
"[This] is what I got into music for," an ecstatic Rosenberg told Rolling Stone in the green room after the gig, as he and a giddily tipsy Sheeran went into full-blown bromance mode, chain-smoking, cracking open beers and trading inside jokes in cockney accents. "Collaborations are just one of the fucking most exciting parts of what we do."
The idea came together at 2 a.m. the previous night over drinks at a Nashville pool hall, when Rosenberg floated the idea of Sheeran making a guest appearance. "I was kind of waiting for [him] to [ask]," Sheeran said with a sly smirk.
Although Sheeran moved to Music City in March, he's lived in Los Angeles for the last three months, and he flew in Tuesday for the sole purpose of catching Passenger. "Mike's not only one of my best friends, he's just one of the best singer-songwriters I know," Sheeran said.
"[Tonight] was one of the best sing-alongs I've ever heard – so in tune!" Rosenberg added. "Usually it's like a drunken shout, and tonight it was pitch-perfect."
The "No Diggity/Thrift Shop" medley wasn't the night's only cover. Earlier in the evening, Rosenberg adapted Daft Punk's hit du jour "Get Lucky," as well as a slow-drawn rendition of Simon and Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence" that was more in line with his pensive, heartfelt sound.
"One thing that I really love about me and Mike is whenever we meet up, we always sit somewhere and play each other tunes," Sheeran said. "It's kind of like poker – you have to show your best hands. We're gonna start a group called the Chixie Dicks. It's gonna be the new Simon and Garfunkel."