Passion Pit brought raw exuberance to the Midland last night

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Passion Pit, with Atlas Genius
Tuesday, October 20
Arvest Bank Theatre at the Midland

In the last five or so years, it’s been hard to escape Passion Pit and the influence of its creator and leader, Michael Angelakos. You may not even be aware of it, but the music has crept into our living rooms: Angelakos’ songs have been featured in commercial spots for Taco Bell, Chase Bank, Palm Cell Phones, American Express, Samsung and Tropicana, just to name a few.

Passion Pit’s seemingly sunny and empowering dance music is apparently good at selling stuff. But what has always made Passion Pit interesting — and not just commercial — is the rawness and vulnerability that lays just beneath the blazing synthesizers, samples and the group-sing. Last night at the Midland, the audience got a taste of that raw emotionalism during the band’s concise 70-minute set, and it responded to Angelakos’ beckoning with matched enthusiasm.

The band began promptly at 9:15 p.m. with the pounding beats of “Little Secrets,” from the band’s 2009 debut, Manners. Red and blue spotlights flared around the theater, and the young crowd responded with arms up, ready to dance. Though Passion Pit is Angelakos’ band, and all music is written and arranged by him, he now is content during live performances to just take on duties as frontman. His live band is filled out by three synthesizer and guitar players who trade duties from song to song (and sometimes during songs), and one crashing drummer, who during this performance anchored the band from stage left, providing the music’s heartbeat. The venue felt full on the floor, though the balcony remained empty throughout the evening.

In his dark leather coat, light blue button down and tie, Angelakos paced the stage, exhibiting his trademark falsetto, all while flailing and thrashing his arms, as he would do all night. He stayed confined within the perimeter created by his band, as they cruised through the bouncy “Lifted Up (1985),” a loving tribute to Angelakos’  wife, and the shimmering “Where the Sky Hangs.” 

“Everyone doing okay?” Angelakos asked the crowd. “So nice to see all of you… it’s been a really long time.”

It has been a couple of year’s since the band’s last Midland appearance, and in the ensuing time, Angelakos has quite bravely opened up about his ongoing struggle with bipolar disorder — which has hospitalized him four times, causing him to cancel shows and miss other Passion Pit obligations. He described his decision to speak publicly about his illness with NPR as a way to be honest with himself and with his fans: “This is what I deal with, and you can’t lie.” Ultimately, how brightly Angelakos shines having been through all of this makes him immensely likable. It also makes it easy to forgive his corporatist leanings (you go make some money, buddy).

Knowing how much Angelakos has struggled against himself sheds all kinds of light on his lyrics, which also often deal with addiction. Yet many also how richly Angelakos celebrates joy. The performance of “All I Want,” which simply celebrates those moments when you realize how much you love someone, felt like a transcendent moment, as Angelakos shrieked and danced around the stage, beckoning the audience to join in. And while Angelakos is well-known for his trademark falsetto, it became clearer especially during this song, moving in to last half of the show, that there is so much more he can do with that voice than to just go up to the high register. He has a unique breathiness and a control of his volume and tempo that, hopefully, he will explore more in future songwriting.

Shortly after that joyous outing, Angelakos followed it up with “The Reeling.” We dug the holes we crawl into / now they’re our home, he sang, Here I am oh Here I am/ why won’t someone understand? This performance in particular felt raw and open. I looked around the audience to see people connecting with both the light sounds as well as the dark sentiments. Who better than a young crowd to be able to relate to experiencing high highs and extreme lows in short spans?

The band closed big, first with “Take a Walk,” for which Angelakos asked the band to wave its arms straight up and down to the beat. They obliged readily, knowing they’d reached the show’s crescendo. Finally, after a brief intermission came the band’s biggest hit, “Sleepyhead,” and the crowd danced in unison. It was a crisp set that is the perfect length for this type of band – it left a perfect taste, with us all wanting just a bit more.

A few really great moments at the @passion_pit show tonight. #takeawalk

A video posted by April Fleming (@dolores2175) on

Setlist (approximate, please leave corrections in the comments):
Little Secrets
Lifted Up (1985)
Cry Like a Ghost
Mirrored Sea
Where the Sky Hangs
Make Light
Five Foot Ten
To Kingdom Come
Dancing on the Grave
All I Want
I’ll Be Alright
Constant Conversations
The Reeling
Carried Away
Take a Walk

Sleepyhead

Categories: Music