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Concert Review: Passion Pit

Concert Review: Passion Pit

What happens in the mind of the artist in the midst of a nostalgia tour?

Roseland Theater, Portland, OR
05/09/2019

What happens in the mind of the artist in the midst of a nostalgia tour? There’s little that can be written about the “Plays a landmark album in its entirety” show that hasn’t been said before—the nostalgia, the people knowing every song, the airing of underappreciated deep cuts—but after a decade-long fetish for these shows (the same fascination fuels my love of reunion shows), I have to wonder what the people who wrote the songs feel about returning to that well. Passion Pit’s Manners is something of an outlier in the band’s catalog, existing before frontperson Michael Angelakos began to open up about his mental health struggles, a process he began with its follow up, Gossamer. There are tinges of sadness in Manners, but even the lowest points fail to ever come close to the depths that “Now you’re standing in the kitchen/ And you’re pouring out my drink” and “And then I’m lifted up/ Out of the crimson tub/ The bath begins to drain/ And from the floor he prays away/ All my pain” found a home in.

The interesting thing about the trends of watching bands celebrate their album anniversaries is seeing not just which bands embrace the fanfare, but seeing who turns out to take part in it. Manners is an all-out indie-pop album, where every song is catchy as hell and every chorus is worth belting out. As such, the people who turned up to watch Passion Pit perform Manners in its entirety seemed more into the idea of singing “Let this be our little secret/ No one needs to know we’re feeling/ Higher and higher and higher, higher and higher and higher” than “Oh on my own, where I found you alone/ You were caught up in somebody else’s mess/ And yes, I drank all those drinks on my own/ My life’s become some blurry little quest.” Angelakos’ struggles have caused touring issues for the band, and according to him, he’s spent a lot of time in self-imposed exile after years of touring, not to mention a host of cancelled shows; several years ago, the band were set to perform at Portland’s Moda Center, only to cancel a week prior, with no rescheduled date. All of this makes the fact that I heard multiple young people loudly announce “I’M SO DRUNK” to their friends before their set seem fitting, but nevertheless strange.

Passion Pit’s live performance of their debut was, in keeping with the band, a reasonably tasteful blowout. Spinning lights and LED bars lit the stage in gorgeous greens and purples, their lights obscuring the three members of the band who aren’t Angelakos. While this is a shame, as with many electropop bands, the frontperson is the star of the show, so I can’t be shocked. And, honestly, few performers have the magnetism of Angelakos, who likely has more energy than the other three members combined. Perpetually dressed in a white button-up with his sleeves rolled up and a thin tie, his curly mop of hair, he paces the stage back and forth, flapping his arms and climbing on his piano bench. At one point, he even moved it to the edge of the stage just to stand on for a verse. He managed to sit down for just two songs of the set, wrestling his manic energy just enough to play piano instead of continuing his helium-voiced street-preacher-turned-pop-singer routine.

The remarkable thing about seeing Manners front to back is watching how the energy of the album’s hits could transfer over to deeper cuts. Gorgeous songs like “Swimming in the Flood” and “Folds in Your Hands” didn’t have nearly the pull of “Little Secrets,” “Sleepyhead” or even “Moth’s Wings,” but the album’s control of a high energy environment means that even “Eyes as Candles” got people jumping and sing-shouting along purely by relative proximity to “The Reeling.” Every song from Manners could have been a massive hit if they’d tried hard enough. It was far too much to wish they’d have played their cover of Róisín Murphy’s “Dreams” or the stripped-back versions of “Sleepyhead” and “Moth’s Wings” from the deluxe version of the album, but it was worth it to watch people react to those songs with the exuberance they deserved.

The band came back for an encore of their post-Manners hits: the first four songs from Gossamer, each their own airwave/commercial dominating hit, as well as Kindred’s “Lifted Up (1985).” I remain displeased by the band’s insistence on erasing the existence of their brilliant collection Tremendous Sea of Love, though this may be due to the fact that parts of the album—like “Hey K” and “For Sondra (It Means the World To Me)”—are just not capable of crowdpleasing in the way that “Constant Conversation” or “I’ll Be Alright” are. Closing off the night, Angelakos addressed the crowd’s energy and exuberance, saying that a year and a half ago, he didn’t know if he’d ever make music or tour again but that playing these songs again has made him “the happiest he’s ever been.” Even if the songs from Manners don’t have the same “Oh, gosh, did he steal my therapist’s notes on me?” punch as Gossamer, it’s beautiful that returning to the beginning isn’t just a nostalgia tour; it’s a therapeutic experience for the person who made it.

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