Sunday, June 17, 2018
Music News, Concert Reviews

The passion behind Coastline Festival headliner Passion Pit

Michael Angelakos has acute bronchitis.

"It all started with allergies, and I have a lot of stresses in my life, so I'm starting to get sick," said the Passion Pit singer, calling from a tour stop. "It happens. Touring is touring, and people get sick."

This is not good news for Passion Pit fans. As the synth-pop band continues to scale new heights — playing Saturday Night Live, selling out Madison Square Garden, headlining Saturday's Coastline Festival in Tampa — Angelakos' viability as a touring musician is a touchy subject.

The band has canceled many tour dates over the years, including several in September. That led Angelakos to post an open letter titled "Why Bands Cancel Shows (And Why It Sucks For Everyone)." More than a few critics ridiculed the letter — Spin called it "hugely condescending" — prompting Angelakos to post an explainer the next day. And yet, one week later, the band canceled a show in Portland, Ore.

Angelakos, 26, doesn't regret the letters. He wants fans to know that he knows they're upset, that he does love performing live, that it pains him when his band can't deliver on a ticket.

Most importantly, though, he wants fans to know he's okay.

"If I just canceled a show," he said, "and I didn't say anything, most likely someone's going to say, 'Oh, it's Michael — that's the suicidal, bipolar one, right? Yeah, okay.' It's reductive and it's not true. I'm a person that only came out and talked about my mental illness to explain cancellations. Then it became a precedent for people chalking up any cancellation of any kind, even when that had nothing to do with it.

"I don't lie," he continued. "I don't have the ability to do that. I'm tired of people continually saying, 'Oh, it's because he's mentally ill.' That's crazy! My whole point is to show people that I can tour and have a mental illness, and deal with it."

•••

How did Passion Pit get here?

Start at Emerson College in Boston, where in 2008 Angelakos made a four-track EP as a Valentine's Day gift for his then-girlfriend that eventually spread around campus. It included the song Sleepyhead, which became a music-blog sensation, leading to a deal with Columbia Records, which released Passion Pit's debut album, Manners, in 2009.

The band was poised for much bigger things when it released Gossamer in summer 2012. But about a week before the album's release, Passion Pit canceled a handful of tour dates so Angelakos could, as he stated at the time, "take the time to work on improving my mental health."

In an interview that summer with Pitchfork, he opened up about his bipolar disorder, and how it led to substance abuse, institutionalization and suicide attempts.

That all of this came to a head at a time when Passion Pit should have been at its most visible was unfortunate. Manners was relentlessly hooky and impeccably danceable, but Gossamer was a grand and glorious manifesto of pop, dripping with ambitious production and influence.

"Gossamer took a really long time, and was a coagulation of so many different weird ideas and patchwork ideas," Angelakos told the Tampa Bay Times. "For a second record, it was a good balance between doing what you do and are known for well, and trying some different tempos and things out as well."

As Passion Pit's tour for Gossamer winds down, Angelakos said he has already begun writing his next album. "I can hear it already. I'm very excited."

•••

Videos abound online of Passion Pit performing stripped-down versions of singles like Take a Walk and Sleepyhead. It can be a shock to see Angelakos strumming a guitar or crooning at a piano, considering the band's live shows are overwhelmingly electronic.

He admits there may be a disconnect in how fans view electronic music in a live concert setting.

"I'm sure they think a lot of it is backing track, because we've witnessed an enormous amount of bands that just mime it, which is really disheartening," Angelakos said. "For me, I think, I'm always out there engaging the crowd and trying to turn what is a very emotional project into . . . a communal, participatory event. And I think people can see that we actually do put in the effort."

As Angelakos speaks, there's frustration in his bronchial voice. He's right — he does seem unflinchingly honest. So when asked again if he honestly does enjoy performing live, he is emphatic.

"When I get on stage ... and I see the connection with the crowd, and everyone's dancing and smiling, it's worth all that. It's worth the doctor's appointments, if you're being seen through an illness. It's worth all that. It's worth all the stress of dealing with this type of issue.

"It's a show, an experience, and that's why we love it, and why we are so serious about being level with all our fans. This is something we love to do. And it's certainly reciprocated. We feel that love back. It's fantastic. That's definitely what gives me a jolt."

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