During Sunday night’s irresistible double bill of Passion Pit followed by Hot Chip in the confines of the Hollywood Bowl, I was trying to figure out how much of the unusual amount of late-evening heat was a result of climatic conditions, and how much was generated by the near-constant dancing of the audience, who must have numbered a good 15,000. The weather so far this week suggests the former, but the energy on Sunday was so palpable, it would have been easy to believe the latter.
The two bands that were on display are literally an ocean apart, but they share a rare ability to straddle that difficult divide between true pop sensibility and critical respectability. Although they were technically the support act, Boston’s Passion Pit put on a performance that felt like a headlining set both in length and in the obvious admiration from the crowd.
Lead singer Michael Angelakos stalked the stage restlessly, leading his band through a collection of their best songs from Manners and Gossamer, displaying a total ease with the large venue and a confidence that the group’s tunes would carry across the big crowd. Passion Pit really does aim for the huge choruses, but to my mind, the standout feature of their newer tracks is the stronger songwriting, which has been sharpened to the point of obliterating some of the group’s less-appealing tendencies.
Where there used to be a little too much sugar and not enough substance, there now seems to be a real balance between the additive rush music and the more introspective lyrics. The opening four songs of Gossamer are as good as anything else released this year, and all of them got an airing. “Take A Walk” made for a predictably stomping opener, and “I’ll Be Alright” in particular retained its extraordinary combination of density and weightlessness as it blasted out from the Bowl stage.
Older favorite “Sleepyhead” also went down a storm and made me reevaluate my initial dismissal of Passion Pit a few years back when they first garnered attention. They have it all really: a sparkling live show, a hugely charismatic and distinctive vocalist (and it’s good to see him back on stage after his well-documented recent troubles), and most importantly, big, brilliant pop songs that capture the attention of both active and passive listeners.
In comparison to those young pups, British headliners Hot Chip are veterans of this sort of thing. Recent release In Our Heads is, incredibly, their fifth album, and it has now been eight years since their debut dropped. The band took to the stage looking like both seasoned professionals and nervous science students, and the joy of Hot Chip is that, to some degree, they are both of those things. Rarely can a band that looks so academic at first glance churn out such badass music (although Kraftwerk probably tops that short list, and the Teutonic electro legends are an obvious influence on the Brits).
Just to ram that point home, Hot Chip opened the show with the pounding “Shake A Fist,” complete with its crazy mid-song breakdown. As the set proved, they may not have a truly great album to their name (The Warning came close), but they have a hell of a good back catalogue of singles to draw from. Boosted by a couple of extra members, they churned out an hour of pounding music that had fans on their feet for the duration, even those who could only move slightly from side to side within the restrictions of the rows of benches.
There were a few problems with the set, though. Alexis Taylor may be endearingly reedy on record, especially in the band’s gentler moments, but his voice just doesn’t carry enough live and was regularly drowned out by the thrilling cacophony. The intensity of the volume didn’t do the band’s more delicate moments any favors either, in particular “Boy From School,” a track whose haunting grace ended up somewhat lost in the bluster.
Having said that, it does seem almost churlish to complain considering the cumulative effect of the Hot Chip live experience. They may have initially seemed astonished by the size of the crowd, but they sounded like a fully arena-ready dance outfit; “Over and Over” in particular sounded absolutely anthemic. By the time they reached a late medley consisting of the wonderful “Ready For The Floor” and a fun cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Everywhere,” Hot Chip had won everybody over with their sheer energy and enthusiasm. As a fellow British nerd, it’s great to see these guys moving such a large American audience to their rhythm, and for one night, the Hollywood Bowl was theirs.
For more info: