The crowd of students bounced into the tight, wet air of Passion Pit’s show at the Black Repertory Theatre Sunday night. They leapt to the strong rhythm of drums and sang along to frontman Michael Angelako’s high falsettos. Though the show was a private WBRU anniversary event, the band came to Providence as a part of an international tour promoting Manners, their second album, released in May.
Choirs of children and bright, dancey synth melodies define Manners as much as front man Angelakos’s descants do. Playful samples and space noises come courtesy of the keyboard-banging Ayad al Adhamy and Ian Hulquist. Nat Donmoyer drums and Jeff Apruzzese strokes a sea-foam green electric bass. But the Cambridge, MA band’s trademark sound is Angelakos’s voice flitting up and down the scale over bubbly melodies, even as he belts dirgeful lines like “We’re swimming in a flood, you know/ I thought I felt your touch/ But the water’s rising up.”
Perhaps that juxtaposition is the tension that makes booties bounce at their shows. They don’t shy away from the contradictions in the Village Voice’s praise: “Manners is fantastic, frilly, and dainty in a lush and muscular way, all those carnival keyboards.” Pitchfork called them at once “glycemic” and “elegiac.”
Seeming to embody these highs and lows, on stage Angelakos raises and lowers the mic stand like he’s the conductor of a dance-party marching band. He croons at the microphone like wolf bent backward, then doubles over and coos into it during cuter tunes like “Let Your Love Grow Tall.” At times, he is the Pied Piper, leading the youths of Providence into singalongs, gyrations, and hopping. “Is this a library in here?” the Emerson graduate demands of the Providence crowd. The woops and hollers of the assembled reply “No!” Donmoyer’s drumming overtakes the cerebral Moog noises in the background. The urge to move rocks the crowd.
A lugubrious website (passionpitmusic.com) jars with the springy music they play. “Redemption. Paranoia. Guilt. And brief glimpses of a better tomorrow,” begins the band’s bio. If you can believe what you read on the Internet (their site and elsewhere), the band was formed to make a Valentine’s mix-tape for an unappreciative ex-girlfriend of Angelakos’s, one who “put up with him” as he spun the lyrical charm of Chunk of Change. (Who could turn down a man who wrote a song in your honor called “Cuddle Fuddle?”) Luckily, their producer Chris Zane works with well-known indie groups Les Savy Fav and The Walkmen, and the tape wasn’t relegated to the bottom of a Boston closet post-breakup.
The shirts of the band members turn liquid with sweat as the high-energy show rocketed through two unintentional lights-out and more than one amplifier failure. “Sometimes tech glitches can be kind of fun,” says Angelakos with ever-unfocused eyes.
Their quick set moves between the four singles off Manners (“Sleepyhead,” “The Reeling,” “To Kingdom Come” and “Moth’s Wings”) and their 2008 debut Chunk of Change. The chewy alliteration of that album title comes from an attention to language that blesses many of the songs and lyrics. “Whose side are you on?” Angelakos demands of (presumably) the jilted girlfriend, “What side is this anyway?”
Passion Pit benefits from the swiftness of the heard-today-blogged-tomorrow Internet music scene. It has catapulted them to indie stardom in the short months since September 2008, when their first album hit the shelves or what-have-you of iTunes. They’ll play thirty shows before the end of their tour on November 18 (some in already sold-out venues).
“You’re the best damned friend that I ever had,” Angelakos swoons that rainy Providence night. “You'll always smile upon me when the season’s bad/ You'll always make me feel best even when I'm blue,” he and the crowd sing, while Donmoyer tickles Hulquist with his drumstick (really). “You'll always smile upon me/ And I'll smile upon you too.” Passion Pit: a little leftover sunshine for the autumnal rains to come.