All photos: Cesar Olivares
In the beginning the 9:30 Club was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the floor, and the spirit of Youngblood Hawke, Passion Pit’s opener, was hovering over the audience. Then, preceded by a heavenly chord, Passion Pit exploded into being, onstage. Opening with “Take a Walk,” they laid their foundations for an upbeat, falsetto pop cake of a concert. I barely caught my breath before they played the twitchy, ever-catchy, “The Reeling” (“oh nooo, oh, oh”).
Slowing things down with another new track, “Let Your Love Grow Tall,” they gave me a chance to observe their methods. With band-watching binoculars on, I counted no less than two active synth players, which would eventually grow to four at times, counting the female back up singer and frontman Michael Angelakos. High-pitched synths are a huge part of the band’s sound, and always have been, with exceptions like “Let Your Love,” which was accentuated by keyboard but largely put together with drums and bass. My biggest compliment about Passion Pit will come a little later, but it was through close listening on this song, settled among the throngs of thrilled DC concertgoers, that I started to discover what drives people to love Passion Pit.
The crowd sang along with most songs, a back-up choral group endorsed heavily by Angelakos, who swung the mic out toward us. He paced back and forth on most songs, but seemed especially to croon at stage right and stage left on “Better Things.” The sweet, high voice of their female back up (who is this mystery woman? Internet searches fail me) really came through on “Carried Away,” softening the song and making a great contrast to the piercing male falsetto. And in fact, the vocal backup by (all) other members of the band was really solid. It was a romantic night, is what I’m saying.
The crowd was a little older than some concerts I’ve been to at the 9:30, and I don’t mean sophomore year of college older. These folk seemed like (and I mean this in the nicest way Passion Pit attendees, stop applying your anti-wrinkle creams) mature working persons. Emotionally stable too, I’d conjecture. Dancing, pushing up against one another near the stage, but not going absolutely batshit. Passion Pit is a glittery fun happy place, with some underlying darkness, like most people. And Passion Pit is easy to love. Underneath all the high-pitched feathery keyboards, wrapped up in the cotton candy and (shall I say) gossamer of a high-pitched male vocal, they’re talented pop songwriters. Or Angelakos is. This is their secret. You can accurately link them to many mid-to-late 2000s era semi-experimental bands that combine electronic sounds with falsetto vocals in a strange, shallow 80s-cum-new millennium sound. But you’d also be kind of wrong. “Love is Greed” (played fourth from the end in their set) is a great example of traditionally great song, bridge, chorus, key changes, catchy hook. Take what you will from that (“all songs have these things!”) but I found it unusual and refreshing in that they actively embrace this format and do very, very well with it. “Gossamer” cemented this suspicion with varied, consistently good songs that don’t strictly rely on the popular devices mentioned above. And thankfully almost half the show was comprised of this year’s tracks.
Passion Pit came to the 9:30 fresh from a Saturday Night Live appearance. This was the first concert of three sold out nights at the 9:30. They brought along freestanding spotlights that wheeled upward (blinding audience members) as well as stacked strobes. The club was also flooded with fog, making huge bars of light in magenta and aqua and white (colors you’d imagine Passion Pit would pick) which transcended into freestanding objects, for moments at time, bars of light suspended in air. It was pretty close to a glitzy rock concert, as far as presentation goes. The band closed their set with darling “Sleepyhead” (encoring with “Little Secrets”), red and yellow confetti showering the main floor, and somehow it felt right, this confetti. It brings me back to the original piece of information you may have missed: three sold out shows. I have this suspicion that, out of all the bands that sound like Passion Pit (or vice-versa), Passion Pit will be remembered as one of the best bands of this genre. Best selling, best musicians, best anything else? I’m not sure. They’ve commanded enough attention, four years after their initial, heralded “Chunk of Change” to sell out the 9:30, thrice. That three shows were necessary, I can’t say. But I did hear last night’s show was even better than the first.
Night #1′s set list:
I arrived in time to see Youngblood Hawke open, another catchy act. They also were a mix of 00′s bands: a dash of Modest Mouse, a little White Stripes, and as one audience member pointed out, a little Edward Sharpe. They picked low-hanging, buzzy bass fruit, a guilty pleasure style good sound on “We Come Running,” and gave their best folksy-80s-2000s fusion approximation in their song “Forever,” from the 2012 eponymous EP release. I’d listen to them again, if not just for the fact that their singer, tye-dye shirted and white skinny jeaned, came down in the audience to sing with everyone. This five piece band also gave their singer and backup a floor tom of their own to bang when appropriately worked up (I was jealous). The track highlight of the evening was We Come Running” from their 2012 EP. (And, in comedic highlights, they did an 80s feel cover of Notorious B.I.G’s “Juicy.”)
- more Passion Pit photos: