Passion Pit at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Paul Wellman

If there was ever an experience that exemplified the music and career of Passion Pit, their performance at the Bowl on Saturday might have been it.

First, it needs to be acknowledged that the show was dramatically undersold. Like, “Hey, you wanna go to Passion Pit for free?” undersold. And, even after free ticket sign-ups sprang up across the city, the upper decks of the Bowl were still entirely vacant. Obviously, this isn’t Passion Pit’s fault — it’s just another example of the eternally vacillating chasm that lies between being “famous” and being “pretty famous.” Passion Pit are, no doubt, too big for most 1,000-cap venues, but clearly aren’t yet qualified to headline large ones; or at least not outdoors, on the West Coast, in October WHEN IT’S CHILLY OUTSIDE.

Since most of the tickets had been given away, there wasn’t much signing-along. If anything, most of the groups more popular tunes (“Sleepyhead,” “Take a Walk”) were received with a vague excitement, because “Oh! I’ve heard this song before!” Head bobs and awkward dance moves were abundant, a luxury saved for casual fans of Passion Pit’s shiny and bright melodies that are unaware of the group’s challenging and sometimes troubling lyrical themes.

Having read this recent interview with the embattled Michael Angelekos, it was difficult to shrug off his admission that that most of their music had become “meaningless” to him whilst watching his lethargic stomping around the band’s three synthesizers. It was enough to make the first part of the show feel like a passive-aggressive “fuck you,” even though it’s hard to be too tough on Passion Pit given the turmoil the band have faced over the last few years.

Musically, though, the group seemed to struggle while on stage. It’s been said a thousand times, but it’s hard to overlook the fact that Angelakos’ vocals are so high. Trying as he might to employ Whitney-Houston-channeling mic techniques, the moments when Angelakos’ voice hit were, often times, wince-inducing. Other wince inducing performance moments included: forgotten cues, playing off key, and headlining with a set list that was less than an hour and a half long.

All of this being said, the mood in the general admission area was decidedly different from the rest of the crowd. The area in front of the stage was transformed into a writhing mass of raised arms and iPhone flashes. There was even a crowd surfer. Angelekos and his band of Boston synth-pop merry men seemed to draw considerable energy from the relentlessly upbeat vibes as their performance progressed, which eventually came to a head during the encore performance of 2009’s “Little Secret,” a song which sounds perfectly suited to usher in feelings of euphoria even though it’s about self-mutilation.

All in all, Passion Pit really weren’t very good, ultimately living up to their reputation as being “not very good live.” The saving grace was that it didn’t seem to matter all that much on Saturday night. Most everyone was just happy to be there, free tix or not.


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