“We’re really self-conscious about our music,” Passion Pit frontman Michael Angelakos sheepishly confessed moments before breaking into the penultimate song of their set, brought to Barton Hall courtesy of the Cornell Concert Commission. As hordes of inebriated freshman alternated between shrieking ecstatically and making out with each other, the electropop five-piece delighted fans with a lively show that was anything but self-conscious. While Angelakos’ vocals weren’t always as precise as their buoyant and falsetto-heavy music demands, Passion Pit’s sheer force was more than enough to carry the show.
Brooklyn-based indie rockers We Barbarians opened the night with a short series of energetic and dreamy anthems, including an outstanding cover of David Byrne and Brian Eno’s “Strange Overtones.” Inexplicably, their set began a good fifteen minutes before the listed 8:30 p.m. start time, as plenty of potential fans were still stumbling their way down from North Campus. That said, the vocalist admitted that this was the largest crowd they’d ever had, and We Barbarians certainly left Ithaca with a few new admirers.
Even before Passion Pit appeared, they had full control over the crowd. Wild screaming greeted a meek stagehand as he muttered “check” into the microphone. During the interval, even the slightest change in lighting elicited ecstatic squeals. The band could have stood on stage reading the dictionary and this crowd would have enjoyed it.
When Passion Pit did take the stage, it was in standard electro fashion: in a storm of seizure inducing lights that led straight into a raw, emotional “Moth’s Wings.” If there’s anything negative to say about the band’s first and only album, it’s that Manners at times verges on over-production. While their cheerful mix of synth-pop and indie rock instantly compels you to dance, the emotional content can sometimes be lost. Not so in their live show. Joyful and elated as ever, Angelakos pranced around the stage, wracking his body and voice with unrestrained feeling.
From there, the band cavorted through the bubbly sort of ditties that first earned them mainstream attention. Even after two years of nearly nonstop touring, Angelakos can still lament “I believed in you so you’d believe in me” without the faintest trace of insincerity. From a dark, thumping “The Reeling” to a tender but powerful “Let Your Love Grow Tall,” Passion Pit delivered a phenomenal first half. Unfortunately, the frontman’s signature falsetto began to falter around nine songs in and his warble fluctuated a little too frequently between a surreal treble and a shrill nasality. Luckily, the band’s combination of studio-bred innovation and live personality compensated for this regrettable failing.
Passion Pit initially formed after Angelakos recorded four songs for his girlfriend in 2007, a collection that eventually became the group’s EP, Chunk of Change. Less than a year after that first release earned them mainstream attention, Manners debuted and the group soared to stardom. Their trippy single “Sleepyhead” garnered well-deserved attention, appearing in numerous advertisements and TV shows. Now, well over two years after this initial success, Passion Pit are finally set to release some new music. Recent interviews indicate an album in early 2012, and Saturday night’s attendees got a taste of their newest tracks.
The first, “American Blood,” was a rousing, if stereotypical, tale of American adolescence. Angelakos steered away from his regular chirp, sticking to his chest voice as he reminisced on his not-so-distant youth with lyrics like “that’s the way it felt to be young.” The second was an untitled track with a resonant and throbbing bass line that had 5000 people jumping in unison. Both songs foretell a departure from Passion Pit’s norm on their upcoming album and a movement toward their more rock-heavy influences.
At large, the crowd was far from disappointed. When the band finally closed with a euphoric “Little Secrets,” all of Barton was on its feet. So, while Passion Pit may not be able to carry the smoothness of their album to the stage, Saturday’s show proved that their vigor and inventiveness are more than enough to sustain them.