Live Review: Passion Pit — The Echoplex, Los Angeles
Wed, 03 Jun 2009 15:17:34
Manners, the first full-length studio album from Cambridge, Massachusetts quintet Passion Pit, is a collection of 11 electro-pop anthems driven by lead singer Michael Angelakos’ piercing falsetto. For all of Angelakos’ stentorian prowess and the highly-danceable appeal of Manners’ thumping bass and synth, live, the band displays an endearingly-reticent on-stage presence.
This is a group being likened to 2008's breakout, caftan-clad heroes MGMT, a comparison that comes with it a healthy measure of expectation, and perhaps some “show us what you’ve got” skepticism. Passion Pit seems acutely—and intelligently—self-aware in this regard, which may explain their stage demeanor. But three songs into their set at The Echoplex, they shed much of this reserve and flaunted impressive showmanship, encouraged by a lively audience who sang along with every hook and turned the venue into an after-hours campfire sing-along of sorts. It’s this reciprocity that powered them through Friday’s performance, leading Angelakos to graciously remark, arms outstretched over the bouncing crowd, “This is very warm.”
Passion Pit’s song catalogue is more than body-moving beats and hyperbolic lyrics about “burning incandescently/like a bastard on the burning sea”: Their songs are catchy, but not cliché-ridden; buoyant and equally contemplative; and their flowery turns of phrase a fitting match for music that is ultimately cheery, despite being laden with youthful, heart-rending introspection. It’s in-person that these different sonic strands best intertwine: some energetic clanging keyboard here, a chugging drum throb, and Angelakos’ high-pitched wails on “Make Light,” for instance, blend into something of a ringing wonder of a song. When they launched into this tune after belting out a couple mildly-inhibited ones prior, the five rosy-cheeked bandmates seemed to let out a collective sigh of relief. They are still trying to find their footing as a live act, and not doing a shabby job, either.
Passion Pit is at their best when rousing a crowd to smile and join in on their joyful antics. There’s a noticeable trend these days with bands that all the cool kids like: Throw a chorus of children’s voices onto a track, and you’re virtually guaranteed a crowd-pleaser (Justice's, “D.A.N.C.E.” being an obvious, recent example). Such is the case with “Little Secrets,” where a cluster of hands ascended as the audience broke out into the sweet refrain, “keep climbing higher and higher and higher.” Even a song like “Sleepyhead,” which is as gently somber as the band gets, manages to twinkle with a shrill, birdlike voice in the background—how can you not get down with a song that asserts, “everything is going to the beat”?
There were a few waning moments: “Let Your Love Grow Tall” lazily translated live, but it wasn’t for lack of effort. With their faces twisted in fierce concentration, you can tell that Passion Pit literally and figuratively cares about hitting all the right notes, but it’s when they let go that they reach their greatest performance potential. Such was the case with closer “The Reeling,” reminding us that engaging in pure, innocent, unadulterated fun never hurt anyone, even with a few stumbles and scratches along the way.