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Passion Pit success has them breathing rare air

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Michael Angelakos of Passion Pit greets an ecstatic crowd last August at Lollapalooza in Chicago's Grant Park. (Sun-Times file)


It's impressive that Passion Pit -- a Cambridge, Mass., indie-rock band with two albums to its credit -- recently headlined at Madison Square Garden, the 18,000-seat venue Billy Joel once hailed as "the iconic, holy temple of rock and roll." Even more impressive is that they were offered their pick of sizable and legendary New York City venues.

"We had a choice between Radio City [Music Hall], the new Barclays Center [in Brooklyn] and the Garden," says Ian Hultquist, Passion Pit's keyboard player and guitarist. "We decided to go with the most prestigious one."

PASSION PIT
with Matt & Kim
• 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22
• UIC Pavilion, 1150 W. Harrison
• Tickets: $35; (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com

Hultquist couldn't believe the gig -- before or during.

"It's something that, even as a kid, I never thought, 'That'll be me.' I won't be that guy," he says. "It was amazing, extremely surreal. I look at photos and have a hard time believing I was actually up there."

If you haven't heard of Passion Pit, take this as a lesson on how the music industry has shifted and decentralized.

The band -- singer Michael Angelakos, Hultquist, keyboardist Xander Singh, bassist Jeff Apruzzese and drummer Nate Donmoyer -- came together just five years ago when everyone but Angelakos were students at Boston's Berklee College of Music. Their debut album of twee, slightly spastic pop, "Manners," appeared in 2009, but it was last year's "Gossamer" that took off on the strength of singles -- with happy sounds but heavy words -- like "Take a Walk" and "I'll Be Alright."

But just as success began finding the band, an obstacle emerged. In July 2012, Passion Pit suddenly canceled a string of concerts. Angelakos revealed that he was receiving treatment for depression related to bipolar disorder. He'd been diagnosed at 17 and had been undergoing therapy and medication since.

"I've known Michael for six or seven years, and I was aware of whatever issues he may have. I was pretty used to it," Hultquist says. "It was rough having to pull a few shows, but honestly all we cared about was getting him better and feeling good again. We were able to make up all the dates canceled.

"The experience has forced us all to be closer to each other. We've gotten a lot better at communicating with each other. It's all about practicing a lot of patience and making sure that everyone around you is OK. We can ask each other if we're OK, and we can reach out if it's needed. It's something a lot of bands don't have."

Leading up to Passion Pit's scheduled slot at Chicago's Lollapalooza, fans were still unsure if the band would make it.

"The feeling on stage at Madison Square Garden was a lot like being on stage at Lollapalooza," Hultquist says. "That was such a strange time for us, and we couldn't believe the response we got when we finally got there."

Lollapalooza was something of a hometown gig for Hultquist, a North Shorebird. He remembers his days at Highland Park High School as an environment that nurtured his love of music.

"It's such a supportive place, allowing you to explore what interests you and what doesn't," he says. "I can't tell you how many times I'd put a band together to play some random show in the cafeteria. I'm sure they were probably terrible. But it helped develop my passion for playing live."

The concert is key for Hultquist and the others. They contribute some to the albums, but the songwriting and most of the recording is done solely by Angelakos. For the recording of "Gossamer," Hultquist says he visited Angelakos at the studio in the fall of 2011 while he was demoing "Take a Walk" but didn't see the singer again until next spring.

The result of Angelakos' isolation and singular vision is music very driven by studio tools. "I'll Be Alright" opens the album with bursts of spliced song parts arranged for a propulsive rhythm, and most of the songs similarly rely heavily on electronic effects.

"The songs have an enormous amount of sound inside them," Hultquist says. "So far we've done a good job of re-creating it live, and especially the last couple of weeks have been a turning point toward the show starting to sound like we want it to. I have three keyboards and a guitar, and sometimes I'm playing all four at once."


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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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This page contains a single entry by Thomas Conner published on February 19, 2013 6:00 AM.

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