Michael Angelakos is pretty business-like as arena-pop singers go, dispensing with the small talk. Instead, he’d rather pour his energies into leading massive, musical group-therapy sessions -- at times, that’s exactly what Passion Pit’s performance Friday at the packed UIC Pavilion felt like.
“We’re all in this together,” Angelakos said as the bubble machines went into overdrive, the house lights went up and a legion of pumping fists stretched all the way to the balcony for “Take a Walk.” As triumphant as the moment was, Angelakos was actually singing about a couple struggling to pay the rent and keep their marriage intact.
Double-edged songs are Passion Pit’s specialty. “I’ll be Alright” delivered a typically huge chorus with big, stuttering accents, the musical equivalent of strobe lights exploding. Stack it next to a Nicki Minaj or Rihanna song on the radio and it fits right in, bravado blasted from the mountain-tops.
But beneath the surface celebration, the song’s narrator is sinking fast: “Drink a gin and take a couple of my pills/And my parade will give you chills/Oh honey don’t give me up/I know we've had enough.”
“The Reeling” channeled hip-hop strut with rave-tastic glow sticks waving behind every line. Yet the gaudiness was just a disguise. “Well how I loathe all this obscenity/Is this the way my life has got to be?” Angelakos sang.
The characters in many Passion Pit songs are struggling to stay above water, much like the singer himself, who has spoken openly about his struggles with alcoholism and bipolar disorder. And yet, his narrators aren’t necessarily brooding, they’re reaching out, trying to make sense of the kindness they’ve been given in spite of their misbehavior: an apology in “Carried Away,” a desperate excuse in “It’s Not My Fault, I’m Happy,” the concern for a friend who tries to tamp down his excesses in “Constant Conversations.”
The latter suggested an updated version of a Chi-Lites soul ballad, with Angelakos’ multitracked harmonies cushioning his delicate, falsetto lead, even as he sang of drinking his life away.
What keeps it all from dissolving into whiny self-pity is that many of Passion Pit’s songs read like emails or phone calls to a friend, a lover, somebody who actually cares. They’re one-sided conversations in search of answers. In concert, the audience gets to give its response.
No wonder Angelakos was skipping from side to side of the stage, pointing the microphone into the crowd as chorus after chorus came roaring back at him. Passion Pit’s music is dense and detailed, and in concert it added weight with hard-hitting drums supporting as many as three keyboardists. The synthesizers normally occupy the top part of the mix, but Angelakos’ falsetto went higher still, often supported by munchkin-like backing vocals.
The music was precisely executed, but at times was almost too busy, too frantic, with similar high-pitched dynamics. A few acoustic breathers would’ve been welcome, just for a change of pace. But Angelakos was in no mood to slow the tempo or chew on the lyrics too much. He was trying to banish the turmoil with sing-alongs, and the audience was more than ready to oblige him.
Passion Pit set list Friday at UIC Pavilion:
1 I'll be Alright
2 The Reeling
3 Carried Away
4 Moth's Wings
5 Love is Greed
6 It's Not My Fault, I'm Happy
7 American Blood
8 To Kingdom Come
9 Constant Conversations
10 Take a Walk
11 Cry Like a Ghost
12 Eyes as Candles
13 Make Light
14 Mirrored Sea
16 Little Secrets