A challenge that many bands are facing as of late is how to translate electronic music into an entertaining live display. While an energetic light show certainly does not hurt, I have personally witnessed a great number of electronic acts hampered by their reliance on keyboards, which keep the audience hopelessly in the dark on how music is being made and keep musicians tethered to their instruments. Electro pop band Passion Pit attempted to conquer this problem Nov. 29, coupling the obligatory light show with an impassioned performance by lead singer Michael Angelakos. While they were successful to a degree, their performance was not without some problems.
The show opened with a performance by indie rock outfit Ra Ra Riot, which proved to be an excellent, if not entirely musically congruent, opening act. Combining a superb rhythm section (particular kudos to bassist Mathieu Santos, who nearly stole the show for me with his inventive and technically adept playing), charming strings, a charismatic frontman and a stalwart guitar player keeping things together, the band brought a significant amount of energy to its performance. The crowd responded very positively to the opening act; the volume of applause they received seemed to be too great for that of the warm-up band. However, the set was hindered to some degree by the poor sound of the Electric Factory — oftentimes I couldn’t even be sure that the guitar was plugged in. Regardless, Ra Ra Riot exceeded any expectations as an opening act, possibly even upstaging the main act.
However, once Ra Ra Riot concluded its set, the venue became extremely crowded. Between the dubstep blaring as Passion Pit’s gear was set up; the almost exclusively teenage crowd; and the combined smell of alcohol, perfume and sweat, the atmosphere began to resemble that of a fraternity party. After some time, the lights went down, and the crowd absolutely roared as Angelakos and company took the stage. While the frontman wandered about the stage, interacted with the audience and showed off his impressive range, his backing band formed a semicircle behind him, playing their parts with little vigor or emotion. Indeed, while most of the band members have been together since 2008, it certainly did not come across in their performance. While the instrumentalists played their parts to perfection, they barely seemed to acknowledge each other — they largely stood in place and provided music for Angelakos to sing over. Watching Passion Pit after Ra Ra Riot was a study in contrasts. Ra Ra Riot seemed like a bunch of friends having a great deal of fun onstage together, trading off instruments and joking around. Passion Pit seemed to be all business, with the possible exception of the lead singer, who genuinely did seem very happy to be there.
Despite this, the crowd didn’t seem to really notice or care about the band’s dynamic or figuring out how the musicians onstage created the sounds that emanated from the speakers (a problem I have with live electronic music that I alluded to earlier). Instead, the audience seemed to treat the occasion as simply a big party, responding very well to the massive choruses, the very impressive light show and the endless amount of hooks and booming basslines that Passion Pit provided for them. Despite my curmudgeonly attitude toward their performance, they did seem to provide those in attendance very effectively with what they came to see. Energy abounded in the Electric Factory throughout their performance, proving Passion Pit to be talented entertainers — at least for those who go to Passion Pit concerts.