Tom Waits on helium — Passion Pit at the Moore 2009.12.09

Michael Angelakos, the lead singer of Passion Pit, sings like what could be mistaken for a 12-year-old girl. Screaming at the top of his lungs, in falsetto, Angelakos puts everything he can into his voice, attempting to hit the notes and extremes he did when recording in the studio. Trouble is, the human vocal chords just aren’t meant for that kind of abuse. Try singing like he does on any one of the songs from the band’s amazing full-length debut Manners, or on Chunk of Change, the EP that introduced the world to the genius of Passion Pit in 2008. After giving yourself a true, honest attempt at singing any one of the songs, you’ll most likely send yourself into a coughing fit of recovery to get your voice back to normal.

Now try to sing the whole album — Poof! You’ve lost your voice completely. OK, now try singing the album and the EP, day in and day out, for months on end, in clubs and venues that grow steadily larger the more word gets around about your band. We’re talking permanent damage, possibly setting yourself up to lose your voice entirely for the rest of your life. That, or end up sounding like Tom Waits on helium. This is where Angelakos finds himself today.

I’m no doctor and I’ve not spoken or read anything about the current condition of the singer’s vocal chords. But I know what I hear, and it’s clear that something has changed in him since making the recordings and performing numerous shows earlier this year. When I caught them play the Paradise Club in Boston back in June of this year, the reviews of that night in the Boston press defined Angelakos’s falsetto as “impossibly consistent.” That couldn’t have been more true.

Passion Pit were supposed to play the Showbox at the Market on October 11. But they had to postpone the show at the last moment due to the vague excuse of “illness.” Vancouver and Portland shows that followed were also cancelled. So here we are, two months later, after the band has had two more months to pound away on their limited songlist and vocal strength.

But it turns out none of that matters. No, Angelakos didn’t sound like he was at the top of his game. He was holding back for most of the hour-long set, a little bit timid, reserved, not wanting to push things too far. You could see him swallowing pretty hard and wincing slightly in pain after attempting to hit a couple especially high notes early in the set, but the more songs they played, the looser and more energetic they got; halfway through the show, the band hit their stride and all was right with the world (well, everything except for the venue. I could write an entire novel on how the Moore Theater isn’t conducive to dancing and shouldn’t host bands that are meant for getting up and moving around to).

The band touched on nearly every song in their limited ouvre during the show. “Sleepyhead,” the band’s breakthrough hit, was a highlight of the evening, with the near-capacity crowd bouncing up and down. And the encore, ending with “The Reeling” and everybody singing along “Oh NO-oo-oo” to the chorus was a perfect capper for the evening.

I hope Angelakos is able to eventually take a break, repair his voice, learn how to sing with as much might as possible without overly damaging his voice, and all while recording some great new music in the studio. But if Passion Pit comes through town again before any of that happens, rest assured I’ll be at the front of the line.

(Originally posted at Click & Dagger.)