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Passion Pit, Harlem Shakes live

| June 17, 2009 | 0 Comments

Empty Bottle, Chicago
Sunday, June 14, 2009


On the surface, Passion Pit are seemingly doing everything right. A synth and keyboard-heavy outfit, the group invite instant comparisons to last year’s heatseekers MGMT. What’s more, blogs across the Internet are heaping wild praise upon the group, with remixes of songs from the band’s recentManners (Frenchkiss) record beginning to pop up even quicker. And this past Sunday’s performance at Empty Bottle has been buzzed-about and sold-out for months. It’s no wonder the group aren’t messing with a winning formula.

Their Chicago performance was a crowd-pleaser, to be sure. The act dove right into everything the room loved aboutManners, with frontman Michael Angelakos’ constant falsetto quickly becoming the performance’s unmistakable focal point. Keys, synths, and samples dominated the set at piercing volumes, transforming into digital bells and chimes for “Moth’s Wings,” a track that inspired handclaps throughout the crowd. The chorus of “Make Light” become a squealing siren, blasting out of a sped-up, driving, repeated bassline. Elsewhere, it became impossible not to view “Little Secrets” as this year’s answer to Justice’s blog-smash “D.A.N.C.E.,” especially with the track’s repetitive, if not derivative, sample of children continually repeating “I am, I am” in the chorus. Little surprise, the song was instantly, fervently, and unanimously received.

To Passion Pit’s benefit, not every selection adhered to the surefire formula. “Let Your Love Grow Tall” provided one of the only distinguishable moments of sincerity, with Angelakos solemnly pleading, “So I’ll pray for them and I’ll pray for you, ’til my face turns blue.” And “I’ve Got Your Number,” off the group’s 2008 Chunk Of Change EP, carried a bit more of a rock tinge, with the frontman venturing outside his otherwise-standard falsetto, providing some much needed versatility to the show.

Yet while Passion Pit primarily stuck to the script, openers Harlem Shakes played in a much larger sandbox, incorporating tambourine, maracas, and, most effectively, jaunty saxophone, all to great effect. A six-man operation, the group unleashed loose grooves over drummer Brent Katz’s tight rhythms. Drawing from Technicolor Health (Gigantic), they careened through the excellent yet unassuming “Winter Water,” coming across massive, loose, sloppy, and forceful. “Sunlight” proved infectious, putting singer Lexy Benaim’s slightly nasal vocals at the forefront of the song, with surprisingly pleasing results. And on the title track, the group displayed a muted but effective swagger, while still remaining pretense-free. It was the kind of spontaneity Passion Pit seemingly never considered, instead opting for immersing themselves entirely in proven, hipster-approved broadstrokes. Then again, giving the people exactly what they want clearly hasn’t hurt the band yet. Why mess with success?

Jaime de’Medici

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Category: Live Reviews, Weekly

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