by Kyle Sanders
In between set lists, two songs played over the PA system as stagehands readied the stage for the main attraction: "Black Sun" by Death Cab for Cutie, followed by "Bizarre Love Triangle" from New Order.
It wasn't the smoothest transition between songs, as neither sound entirely similar, but I commented to my fellow concertgoer that perhaps this was the ultimate definition of Passion Pit's music: indie pop's melancholic lyrics infused with '80s synthesizers.
It's not a bad thing--in fact, I'd say it perfectly encapsulates the era in which the indietronica band from Cambridge debuted on radio stations, right along the likes of similar artists such as MGMT, Grizzly Bear, Arctic Monkeys, and Franz Ferdinand. It was during the latter half of the 2000's when college radio received a big push thanks to the likes of iTunes and YouTube.
Sure, the lyrics of Millennial angst resonate with the young crowd, but there's a not-so-subtle hint of nostalgic familiarity that Generation Xers can relate to as well. As I looked around the venue, staring at concertgoers both young and old, it seemed to make sense.
It was almost too cold of a January evening to be standing in line outside the Riviera Theater, but any Chicagoan worth their (sidewalk) salt could have cared less when it ultimately led to toasty pop music euphoria. Passion Pit's collection of sing-along tunes backed by lush production values are perfect would-be arena staples, yet certainly appropriate for a venue whose capacity cap-off is 2,500.
As eager fans continued to fill the general admission area, a promising opener by the name of slenderbodies kept the momentum going. The male duo barely took up less than half the stage yet managed to fill the auditorium with just airy guitar and bass rhythms and soft vocals similar to Grimes or Sufjan Stevens. The only recognizable song played was their solid cover of MGMT's "Electric Feel," which seemed to get the crowd amped up and ready for the headliner.
And the headliner did not disappoint! The first half of Passion Pit's set focused primarily on tracks from their 2009 debut Manners, including "The Reeling," "Moth's Wings," and minor hit "Sleepyhead" (which included the sampled high-pitched vocals of Irish soprano Mary O'Hara).
Further into the set featured songs from their sophomore effort Gossamer (2012), including "Mirrored Sea," "All I Want," and set closer "Carried Away."
Backed by a drummer and three guitarists who also shared synthesizer duties, lead singer Michael Angelakos carried on throughout the night, his physical prowess and pitch-perfect falsetto keeping the show lively and energized (even though he was unable to hide the sweat bleeding through his dress shirt and necktie).
While lesser known tracks from more recent albums were sprinkled throughout (including the crowd-stomping "Lift Up (1985)"), the audience responded more enthusiastically to their earlier work, such as "Little Secret" and an encore performance of "Take a Walk." There was one missed opportunity, however: a cover of The Cranberries' "Dreams" would have been timely considering Dolores O'Riordan had just passed away days prior. It would have been a fitting tribute, yet wasn't necessarily vital in an already stellar set list.
It's no "little secret," Passion Pit reeled in its audience for roughly ninety minutes, making us forget about the bitter January temperatures and enjoy a night of heavy synths and sing-along choruses.
1) I'll Be Alright
3) Moth's Wings
4) The Reeling
5) Eyes as Candles
6) Where the Sky Hangs
7) Make Light
8) Smile Upon Me
9) Lifted Up (1985)
10) To Kingdom Come
11) All I Want
12) Mirrored Sea
13) Cry Like a Ghost
14) Little Secrets
15) Carried Away
16) Constant Conversations
17) Take a Walk
[image from the Riviera Theatre web site]