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ACL Fest scene report: Passion Pit

Staff Writer
Austin 360

By Ramon Ramirez

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 6, 2013

When Passion Pit’s “Saturday Night Live”-coup crossover record “Gossamer” was released in July of last year, I used a cursory listen to compose a tweet/joke about shopping for dorm furniture at Target. It was my bad. As the “Gossamer” cycle’s last legs give out on an Austin City Limits Saturday, thousands of fans speak to its staying power. Literally—the band’s synthesizer-centered melodies lean on oceans of “ohs” and “woah-oh-ohs” from inspired chanters. Singer Michael Angelakos, all skinny green tie and scraggly handsome devil, sick with allergies, sees his vocals drowned in synths but elevated by his fans.

Stage left along the rail, I’m in a sea of mothers and their first-timer daughters. Angelakos will be a lot of girls’ first. It’s a healthy place to start for the wildly popular band that masks bright, punchy pop with articulate, poetic, sign ‘o the times words. The stuff is brightly sad—reportedly written and recorded during Angelakos’ struggles with suicidal thoughts and bipolar disorder. It’s an album that, I think, will endure as a millennial milestone because of its ardent inward-thinking, big city sadness and anti-rock aesthetics. It whimpers live at times because the band is on-stage filtering layers through boards, and Angelakos is detailing different chunks of his personal life with falsetto.

Two and a half hours before the band’s 6:00 p.m. set, I’m chatting with the other guys—guitar player Ian Hultquist and bassist Jeff Apruzzese. Hultquist convinced Angelakos to flesh out his recordings into full-band mode and that’s how Passion Pit began. As a chief lieutenant he is more “emerging horticulturalist” than “shredding giant.” Apruzzese is tall, thin, lightly tatted and has this intense beard, deep gaze thing where you look at the guy and think, “I bet he’s really good at ‘Mario Kart.’”

“I hate attention, I hate being the center of attention, I hate being in a band for that reason, so I love being in the background.” Apruzzese says. “I like not having to worry about anyone knowing what I look like. I go and do my job and then I go home and no one knows what we do in our [Brooklyn] neighborhood.”

ACL’s Day 2 is a game day for the band, who will travel to the coastal south and drive back to Austin between ACL sets. They’ve been performing nonstop, in a summer spin dry of mirroring festival lineups and big dates they don’t have time to enjoy.

“I don’t know where my head’s at right now,” Appruzzese says, “On-stage at Madison Square Garden doesn’t feel real, same thing with ‘SNL.’ But I guess we’re actually doing something, I’m glad the project is progressing.”

Hultquist has an eye toward the winter break. If Angelakos is the composer, Hultquist is the logistics man that thinks in “formulas” and strives to put it all together. He’s also tasked with adjusting to the thematic whims of his singer. It’s part of the reason Passion Pit took three years between albums.

“The uniformed thought between everyone is that we want to put out a record much sooner than we did the last one,” Hultquist says, “We toured for two years straight, we straight up burned out for a few months … Now we’re conscious of not doing the same thing twice.”

For now, Hultquist is trying not to think about performing on one of the main stages, “I just hope nothing goes wrong.”

Appruzzese compartmentalizes, “We just pretend that nothing is about to happen, like it’s just a normal day, we’re hanging out, eating some lunch and then it’s like ‘oh you guys have to go on now.’ Cool.”