Seeing Passion Pit perform still feels like a small triumph.
Passion Pit resides in a very strange place in indie dance music. For some, they’re known for songs like “Little Secrets” and “Take a Walk,” both almost irresponsibly catchy pop jams that have been infecting ears for quite some time now. But for others, they’re a band that resonates with sufferers of mental illness due to frontman Michael Angelakos’ unabashed willingness to talk about depression and addiction throughout the band’s catalog—he’s even been up front about the fact that he’s touring right now in order to afford the upkeep his mental health requires. Passion Pit’s crowds fall into two similar categories: those who came to just dance, and those who came to dance themselves better.
Let’s address one glaring, disappointing exclusion from Passion Pit’s recent Portland show: the band didn’t play a single song from last year’s Tremendous Sea of Love, their self-released fourth album. This is a shame, because that album was a welcome return after 2015’s good-but-not-great Kindred, and some of its best songs—especially “Hey K,” but especially “I’m Perfect”—seem designed to get the dancefloor swaying and bouncing. They stuck to the three best tracks off Kindred (which, thankfully, included the career-high “Where the Sky Hangs”), leaving the band to focus mostly on their first two albums, Manners and Gossamer.
Passion Pit is Angelakos, and the project exists as a “band” solely in a live setting. As such, the live players tend to feel like faceless background members, which has always seemed like a missed opportunity since I first began seeing the band perform on the Gossamer tour. This is not meant to knock the touring band—Passion Pit becomes a different beast with people actually performing its music live, namely drummer Chris Hartz, who breathes new life into the band’s beats. But this is Angelakos’s show, and he commands the stage with a fascinating manic energy. He paces from one side of the stage to the other, stands on monitors and his piano stool and generally engages with his surroundings in a way that’s difficult to look away from. Perpetually dressed in an untucked button-up and a tie, his curly mop of hair askew, he commands crowds with a charming zeal that you rarely see anymore.
Somehow, watching Angelakos stalk the stage doesn’t get old. In Portland, his voice sounded a little strained—he was getting over a cold, which he claimed was exacerbated by “singing with a Muppet voice every night”—but it didn’t do anything to take away from the tightness of the performance outside of that. Perhaps this is why the tour has been devoid of Tremendous Sea of Love: they’ve road-tested their setlist too effectively to want to rewrite it anytime soon. Still, the band would do well to pencil in a deep cut here or there—how could anybody have a party without a banger like “Where We Belong”?
When Angelakos announced in 2017 that he would take a step back from music to focus on mental health advocacy, it felt like he might never play again. There’s a sadness in knowing that the ability to just take care of himself is what brought him to the stage again, but seeing Passion Pit perform still feels like a small triumph. They have never been the greatest band in the world, or the most important, but if just one person at their show was able to dance themselves better for just one night, Angelakos and his band will have done their jobs.