It’s become cliché among local indie-rock fans to say that Cambridge-bred synth-pop act Passion Pit get the kids to dance. Anointed by critics last fall as the next big thing, the band’s shtick is defiant in its own way, even if it’s clearly for children.
Monday was frontman Michael Angelakos’ twenty-second birthday, perfect timing for a release party in honor of his band’s new album, Manners. Since the event was held on a boat on the Hudson, I wore a white trench coat in keeping with the natural theme. It was a bit like play-acting Tom Wolfe among the Merry Pranksters: the crowd seemed to be reaching for a freaky-deaky vibe while I stood there like a prematurely aging goof wondering what all the fuss is about.
While the audience bobbed and sang along through much party (me included), it wasn’t until the last hour of the cruise that I finally understood what the live show is actually about. “Last Nite” came on, and a couple of people started to mumble, “High school!”
An hour or so into the evening, Passion Pit began their set: Angelakos thanked the crowd for supporting “the new record” as someone standing behind me complained that they “don’t have a new record, just a record,” (Manners is their debut). “The Reeling” and “Sleepyhead” soon won over the skeptics, and a couple of kids began to slap the roof of the boat into submission before “Moth’s Wings” (oddly appropriate).
The last time I was part of a crowd this high on nothing was in college. A frat was hosting an after-party for a sketch comedy group, and the lore on campus goes that the brute force of everyone’s joie de vivre nearly caused a floor to collapse. The house band that night, coincidentally, was Harlem Shakes, who will be touring with Passion Pit this spring. Both the Shakes (reconfigured since college) and Passion Pit write about reeling: the former implores a girl to reel in her feelings (“T.F.O.”), while the latter complains of a more ambiguous siren reeling him back in.
Unfortunately, Passion Pit won’t be on the line for very long. The band will probably go off and get famous while we sit at home feeling old. In “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” another synth-pop auteur, Thomas Dolby, sings about buying a childhood friend’s singles -— “but that’s not quite the same — it isn’t, is it?” It ain’t. The audience conflict is already apparent: there were as many bearded men as there were boys at this event, and many of them looked exhausted. A couple of kids, meanwhile, had trouble placing Blur’s “Girls & Boys.”
The party ended at 11 p.m. sharp, just as the opening piano riff to “No Diggity” slinked into recognition. It cut off. “You can’t tease us with ‘No Diggity’ like that!” someone yelled from the upper deck. For the last few minutes, he played air bass on a pair of brooms. The lights went up anyway, and the crowd headed home, attempting to recreate the track on the walk back to terra firma. Most of us had forgotten a few of the words.
Mark these instead: Passion Pit is a lot of fun, and their ascent is inevitable.