Live Music + Gig Reviews

Passion Pit @ Cargo, London

23 February 2009

Passion Pit‘s Michael Angelakos is slowly realising something about playing shows in London. During an instore at a record shop a few days earlier, he was openly baffled by the assorted cognoscenti and their lack of vigour. At their first ever London headline show however, he’s already resigned to the shocking apathy that makes visiting bands grit their teeth when playing the torpid capital. At one point he even trails off while trying to enliven the crowd during songs, muttering “stone cold London” under his breath.

He’s right, of course. London audiences are harder to impress than a moody Joan Collins. But to be fair, Passion Pit, fancied by all sorts and their step-mums as serious contenders in 2009, aren’t the most dynamic band on stage. Scruffy, beardy and bouffant, Angelakos is a dead ringer for TV unfunny man Rory McGrath, and is genial, but not much else. Having self-composed their first release Chunk Of Change EP, the band are now a five-piece. Accomplished as they all are, the drummer still cues about half the songs from a laptop at his feet, a sight that is less than inspiring.

What they do have though are an undeniably great clutch of songs that really set them apart from the small army of indie-bred bands throwing themselves on the electro bandwagon at present. I’ve Got Your Number starts off with a drum loop in hock to Timbaland that slowly becomes smothered in warm synths and Angelakos’s softly delivered vocals. It’s pleasantly tender and romantic, as befits a song written as a Valentine to Angelakos’s then girlfriend.

But other songs however show off his already distinctive falsetto, something that’s prompted more than one listener to suggest that Angelakos is missing his true calling as a David Lee Roth impersonator. It’s shrill certainly, but it works when interwoven with the Steely Dan-like jazzy chords of Better Things, a sublime wedding-disco song for hipsters everywhere. On a few new numbers from their forthcoming debut, he even recalls Sigur Rós‘s Jónsi Birgisson and his wild vocal range (from mewling, new-born alien to ear-piercing screech). Rest assured, this man can sing very high indeed.

Though they’ve been hyped and fancied by self-appointed “tastemakers” the world over, Passion Pit are thankfully not interested in being even remotely cool or chic. Live To Tell The Tale, with it’s bombastic synth power-chords is pure Toto. Whereas most electro-indie crossover bands are frivolous and disposable, you get the sense that Passion Pit may go the distance by virtue of being just earnest enough to really engage their fans, and not just give them cheap thrills. Lots of the new material played at Cargo certainly lives up to the hype, and makes the album’s release even more eagerly anticipated.

But as the first strains of Sleepyhead kick in toward the end of the show, you have to wonder whether they’ve shot their load a little too early. Swelled by sweeping synths, hand-bells and a sped-up Mary Margaret O’Hara sample, it towers over the rest of their set by some distance. The song’s awesome thump is even enough get the frigid crowd shaking finally, as Angelakos flits from cooing to screaming while clambering on top of his chair. If they can make “stone cold London” loosen up, they’re clearly doing something right. Let’s just hope that they can deliver on their early promise with an album that lives up to the hype.

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