Passion Pit, Phoenix, and Spoon, live at the Orpheum Theatre, December 4, 2009
Photo: Nick Curran
Phoenix performs at WFNX's Miracle on Tremont Street at the Orpheum Theatre
A quick, mildly sycophantic shout-out to the "powers that be" here in Phoenix-Land: This year's Miracle on Tremont Street was nothing short of a wicked pissah powerhouse bill. The grand old Orpheum creaked under the weight of a sold-out audience, and a pronounced feistiness prevailed (the girl behind me in the beer line managed to reverse my suspender straps without me even noticing).
This jolly vibe was especially evident when Passion Pit took the stage, prompting a surge of screamy adulation from the rows. It's nice to see the Pit boys finishing up this banner year with a performance on Boston's most venerable "you've made it" stage –even if their set did as much to highlight what they haven't yet achieved as what they have.
By now, the crowd-pleasing capabilities of Passion Pit are a given; their debut, Manners (Frenchkiss), was the perfect riposte to early-bird haters who doubted if Michael Angelakos could out-"Sleepyhead" himself with a solid full-length. Accepted wisdom now is that he did just that, but the fire of those songs is not easy to carry to the stage. Like most acquired tastes, Angelakos's falsetto is most easily accepted in small doses (which is why PP have been the heroes of mixtapes everywhere since Manners dropped). But over the course of a full set, it can prove as much of a struggle for listeners as it seems to be for Angelakos himself.
At times, he appeared pained by the demands of his own delivery: tipping up onto the balls of his feet for especially high notes, wrenching his free hand into a little raptor claw, and straining his face for the proper shape to squee through. On songs like "Little Secrets" — where his voice has welcome contrast in the form of some serious bottom-booty-whomp, he sounds right at home (and the crowd-supplied choruses of higher and higher and higher helped thicken things out). But when he's not relying on his high register, he nearly disappears entirely, as on the anthemic "Moth's Wings." Still, hits like "Sleepyhead" and "The Reeling" have a gripe-proof sheen to them — instantly familiar signature-songs that crown their perceivable flaws as signature-quirks — and the crowd duly went nuts over them. If tonight was an opportunity for Passion Pit to soak in a year that still has Angelakos's head spinning, let 2010 present him an opportunity to bust the templates of his successes — lest his larynx bust first.
It's a bit hard to comment on Phoenix's performance, not just because there was scarcely a thing wrong with it — but because, as a result, my notebook was duly rear-pocketed and waggled about in a fit of attempted dancing (those rows are tight!). A generous sampling of songs from their breakthrough Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix (V2), 2004's Alphabetical (Source) and 2006's It's Never Been Like That (Astralwerks), did more to demonstrate why all 2624 of us probably should have been listening to Phoenix this whole time instead of just post-"1901."
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