Michael Angelakos, the stratospheric crooner behind synth-pop outfit Passion Pit, has never been one to aim for tame concerts. Instead, like his moniker implies, the singer/songwriter prefers to let the gauntlet of emotions that drive his wild, electronic melodies to erupt onstage with all the chaotic and shimmering gusto he and his bandmates can muster. A Passion Pit show is just that: a veritable pit of passion in which Angelakos and company stuff every intimate terror and love that plagues their hearts before placing a quilted-carpet of glittery hooks over it, like some cartoon pitfall trap. And the audience, even those who know what’s underneath, dive in every single time. Why? Because even the darkest of depressions that emerge behind his insatiably catchy tunes hold a powerful catharsis, one channeled by Angelakos’ piercing howls and the almost purifying nature of his bright synth explosions.
Playing to a sold-out crowd at the Observatory North Park in San Diego, the second of three Southern California dates, Angelakos gave the crowd his characteristically unfiltered performance of ardor. Nothing was amiss as he played songs from across his four albums, mixing lightening rod pop anthems like “Make Light” with swelling, twinkling ballads as in “Where the Sky Hangs.” But something was different, something barely tangible in the way Angelakos danced, leaped and spun onstage that was informed by the hefty personal nature of the songs he sings.
Angelakos has never been one to shy away from describing the detrimental effects the demands of touring and putting out music has had on his mental health and his self-identity. In 2012 tour dates were canceled in order for him to seek ongoing treatment for bipolar disorder, for which he was diagnosed at 17. The tour was in support of Gossamer, an album Angelakos has called the “product of a manic episode” in which he “nearly lost everything,” as it delved deep into the singer’s struggles but remains one of his most profoundly affecting creations to date. Then in August 2015, a few months after Kindred was released, Angelakos and his wife announced their divorce and the singer came out as gay. The reasons behind the decision were complex but somewhat stemmed from his desire to take back some control over the narrative of his life that was being condensed due to his public role as an artist. Since then, the very vocal Angelakos has pushed tirelessly for increased awareness and funding to support the mental health of artists through his Wishart Group, as well as using his social media platforms to educate fans.
It’d be wrong to assume from a single night the state of Angelakos’ well-being, but the amount of control he has regained since 2012 is not so unknown and its effects on the singer have been empowering. With the release of Tremendous Sea of Love via the Wishart Group–a return to Passion Pit’s loving penchant for complexly intertwined synth melodies in its own right–Angelakos has asserted a sense of sovereignty over his music and in turn the things that affect his mental health. Little has changed on the surface, as the singer still manages to manipulate crowds with such effortless grace, sending them into a frenzy when he stands on the edge of the stage swinging his microphone above his head by its cord and screaming in such euphonious clarity. The three-song opening alone was enough to spark an emotional revolution, with “Carried Away,” “Sleepyhead,” and “Moth’s Wings” all propelling the show head-first into the inane tempo Passion Pit thrives on. Yet, the defining characteristic of Passion Pit no longer solely includes the dichotomy of personal angst/mental health mingling with synth-pop flavors, it now also encompasses the coherency of Angelakos’ constant conversations over the things that so passionately inform his music. His open struggles are clarion calls not reserved for the stage or performance and they ceaselessly call for support to aid the hundreds of unseen cases that exist within the industry.
A lot of times we idolize artists for the wisdom they espouse in their songs, believing that because they sing these profundities they no longer deal with those issues. That disconnect doesn’t exist when watching Angelakos onstage. Suddenly the duality of his songs stops being this musical element that only exists as it touches your own life and transforms into a very real, very tangible life-line between you and him. On a personal level, you see eye-to-eye with Angelakos, as all the cascading synths, rippling beats, and every manner of melodic wonder stop being a mask for his strife and instead are the exclamation through which they are offered.
The catharsis flows both ways. Sometimes it heals you, sometimes it breaks you before it can mend. But you can see it in his eyes, in the way he grabs his lips between notes and throws his body around, in the way he channels anguish and bliss with every bleeding note. We tend to get caught up in the idea that music has to save you or cure you, we get caught up in the mythos and idealism of an artist and we forget the person behind the words. It’s hard to close the rift between performer and audience, but Passion Pit has essentially grown to redefine that relationship into one that places both on equal footing, person to person. Angelakos might be onstage but he’s also right there with you in that pit, trying to make sense of it all–and he never lets you forget it.
Indie-pop band Neil Frances and duo courtship. opened up the night for Passion Pit. Both bands operated in similar veins, relying on a heady concoction of electronica and harmonies to accent their rock sentiments. Neil Frances won the crowd over quickly with a variety synth-rhythms while courtship. bombarded them with Wombats-meets-Bleachers kinetics.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward