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Sara Foss's Thinking It Through
by Sara Foss

Thinking It Through

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Passion Pit, in concert

By Sara Foss
Tuesday, February 12, 2013

I’ve been a fan of the electro-pop band Passion Pit ever since their song “Sleepyhead” hit the airwaves, but I developed more of an interest in them after I learned, via Rolling Stone, that band leader Michael Angelakos has been battling bipolar disorder since he was a teenager. I don’t know why, but this knowledge made Passion Pit’s music seem both more endearing and complex, as if the band itself is locked in a constant battle to balance its undeniably upbeat dance music with an angstier, more conflicted sensibility.

Their hit song “Take A Walk” might make you feel like dancing, but the lyrics — “but then my partner called to say the pension funds were gone/he made some bad investments now the accounts are overdrawn/I took a walk” — suggest mounting dread and desperation. Or at least the terror of living through the financial crash after you’ve gone and lost all of your investors’ money.

For better or worse, most of Passion Pit’s music is not that topical. The band played the RPI Fieldhouse on Monday night, and Angelakos revealed himself to be an energetic and generous showman, eager to get people dancing and waving their hands in the air. From the first songs, which included “I’ll Be Alright,” of the band’s 2012 release, “Gossamer,” and “The Reeling,” from their previous album, “Manners,” it was clear that Passion Pit is a band that doesn’t slow down, and there was a brief period where I was beginning to feel a bit exhausted, as many of the band’s songs are delivered in the same heightened, and synth-heavy, emotional pitch.

I really like “Gossamer,” but the second half of the album threatens to dissipate into clouds of vacuous electro-pop, and I worried that the concert would do the same. Fortunately, the band kicked things into another gear when it slowed down and played “Constant Conversations,” an R&B-style make-out song in which Angelakos seemed to be channeling Prince (or perhaps Beck in his “Midnite Vultures” phase).

From there, things just got better. Nobody would have faulted Passion Pit for leaving the stage after 50 or 60 minutes — the band only has two albums, and they played a pretty high energy set. But the show just kept going, and Angelakos appeared to be having a great time, roaming around the stage and delivering his distinctive high-pitched vocals with glee.

In many ways, Passion Pit is a party band, but their best songs have a certain muscular heft to them, and contain unusual rhythms and unexpected jolts of weirdness, which in my opinion distinguishes them from lesser peers (i.e., the Naked and the Famous, or openers Matt & Kim). Let’s face it, “Sleepyhead” is a strange little song, which sounds, at times, as if it was beamed in from another planet — the scratchy electronic noise that kicks it off, followed by gentle choral work, and then Angelako’s yearning, somewhat plaintive vocals, all of which melts away after about two-and-a-half minutes of haunting, jarring dance-pop. “I’ll Be Alright” is a catchy number, but a closer listen suggests emotional turmoil and a certain disconnect from the rest of the world — “I’m so self-loathing that it’s hard for me to see/reality from what I dream/now no one believes me/no not a single thing.”

My one reservation about going to see Passion Pit was that the show would be packed with college students, and it was; however, this turned out to be a small price to pay to see a very good band on a very good night. The band was a lot of fun, and filled the arena with good feelings, but they were at their most interesting when they indulged their angstier, more emotionally unpreditable side.

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Got a comment? Email me at sfoss@dailygazette.net.

 
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