Live Music + Gig Reviews

Passion Pit @ KOKO, London

27 October 2009

Michael Angelakos and his merry band arrived into 2009 with a fanfare of great hope following last year’s release of near-universally lauded EP Chunk Of Change.

Sleepyhead was being played everywhere and they were tipped for huge things and featuring in the Sound Of 2009 longlist. But while the likes of La Roux, The Temper Trap and Florence And The Machine made huge strides forward this year, Passion Pit seem to have got lost in their wake.

The release in May of their album Manners didn’t attract the kind of attention many expected, and their singles haven’t made the impact that was hoped for.

What the five-piece from Cambridge, Massachusetts have done is tour and tour and tour, developing a loyal following and tightening up their live act. A fixture at numerous festivals over the summer and seemingly endless gigging in America has brought them to an extended tour of Europe, including two dates at KOKO that sold out long ago.

We last saw the band play live in London in February, where they struggled with their audience. But tonight the connection they have is so far removed from that lacklustre experience that the work put in has moved things demonstrably forwards.

Angelakos and his four bandmates still seem to be enjoying themselves, even after all those other gigs, and the feeling is infectious as their young fans get caught up in the enthusiasm and excitement.

Leaving out slower album tracks Swimming In The Flood and Seaweed Song leaves a set that is designed for maximum crowd enjoyment – full of belters. It only takes till third track Little Secrets, with its addictive chorus, before it starts to take hold. From then on there’s no looking back. By the time we reach the giddy tag team of Sleepyhead and Better Things, KOKO is one big dancing throng.

The combination of the guitar band sound and the electronic backing is done neatly. They obviously use some backing tracks (there definitely wasn’t a real children’s choir live on stage) but it’s pretty minimal and unobtrusive, with most of the sound being reproduced live.

Angelakos’s vocal style is the sticking point for Passion Pit. If you can’t stand his ultra-high pitched tone then there’s little that can be said to persuade. However, in his favour, while it’s not an effortless performance, he manages to reach up to those higher octaves and hits his notes pretty well throughout. It’s almost surprising, and most definitely a relief, to discover that the man can sing.

They don’t have that many songs but those they do have are great. Not much was left out from their back catalogue of 16 tracks and, once they’re off the road and back in the studio, it’ll be interesting to see which direction they take next.

But for now there’s still a fair amount of mileage left in Manners and even more mileage left for the tour bus. Passion Pit deserve to be better known than they are, but they stand out as a likeable band who can combine well-written songs with irresistible electronic hooks. It’s inevitable that their work ethic will pay off eventually.

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Passion Pit @ KOKO, London
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