The recent influx of popular indie bands touring through Minneapolis has given First Ave an impressive string of sold-out shows over the past few weeks (just in time for the venue's 40th birthday), and Passion Pit's appearance made for one more night of packed-to-the-rafters insanity on that familiar checkerboard dancefloor. The sheer number of attendees made for an electric, excited feeling, but you could forget about finding a comfortable place to stand; concertgoers spilled into every available corner, the stairways having to be regularly swept clean of a changing cadre of drunken dancers. Everyone must have had their fill of button-down brunches with the family this Easter, because the crowd was eager to slam an abundance of drinks and bounce around with their hands in the air, Monday hangovers be damned.
After an early opening set from Bear Hands, Detroit singer/songwriter Mayer Hawthorne jumped on stage dressed in a three-piece suit, backed by a band in matching sweater-and-tie combos, and launched right into a modern soul revue that had an almost religious reverence for old Motown classics. On his debut album (A Strange Arrangement
), Hawthorne often stretches his pipes into a high Smokey Robinson falsetto, but live, his voice was reigned in, settling more into his natural range and coming across stronger and fuller than his recordings (opener "Your Easy Lovin' Ain't Pleasin' Nothing" was especially energetic, generating all sorts of handclaps and delighted shouts from the crowd). When Hawthorne did reach up into his higher-pitched vocals, he did it as a climactic punctuation, making sure that the attendees were well into his groove before delivering the fireworks. His surprising cover of ELO's "Mr. Blue Sky" just seemed to solidify the good-time atmosphere that was at work the entire evening.
But, despite Hawthorne's showmanship, portions of the audience were antsy for Passion Pit's set, craving the Boston band's fractured synth-pop as opposed to immaculately-groomed neo-soul -- but they all got what they were looking for. Though Passion Pit started as the modest one-man bedroom project of Michael Angelakos, the songs benefited from being given the full-band treatment. Early material like "I've Got Your Number" and "Smile Upon Me" were supercharged, turning into full-on dancefloor burners that had the audience crowdsurfing and reaching for the ceiling. In direct contrast to Hawthorne, Angelakos' voice wasn't subdued in the slightest; true to form, he seemed to be pushing the limits of his strained upper register. But, if anyone found it grating, they didn't show it, too caught up in the joy of hearing favorites like "The Reeling" to care. Passion Pit had almost everyone jumping, clapping, and singing along with total abandon from start to finish, capping things off with an exuberant encore that included a cover of the Cranberries' "Dreams" (a crowd favorite) and the Current-favorite single, "Sleepyhead."
While both Hawthorne and Angelakos started these musical projects as isolated solo works, each performer made the leap to a full-band stage show admirably, fleshing out studio material for a live setting in an immensely satisfying way. All the performers were seemingly impressed with the size and energy of the First Ave crowd, all but ensuring that these guys will be sure to make a stop here on future tours. The performers gave the crowd an Easter night to remember, and apparently, the crowd gave the same thing right back to them.