BY AMY Z. QUINN If we’re talking football — and isn’t everyone in Philadelphia talking football right now — this is the time of year for two-a-days, the brutal cram session practices designed to whip a team into shape as the season’s kickoff looms ever larger on the calendar. And while the members of Passion Pit, the Boston five-piece electro dance-pop outfit, weren’t discussing the NFL’s dramz yesterday while traveling from Canada to Philly for their first shows in town, they were in for a two-a-day here Saturday.
Passion Pit, as the already legendary story goes, began as a four-song mix tape called Chunk of Change, made by lead singer/writer Michael Angelakos as a belated Valentine to his then-girlfriend. The romance ended but the music, as it will do, endured, becoming a favorite around the campus of Emerson College, where Angelakos went to school. Eventually, with the band formed and a deal with Frenchkiss records, Chunk of Change was re-released with two additional songs, including the standout Sleepyhead, a beguiling synth-clap mess of a song.
First, the band plays a special Saturday Free at Noon show with Tori Amos for WXPN, followed by a full set at the First Unitarian Church (it sold out in four days), which on a balmy August night should prove as grueling as a few hours at NFL training camp. During a phone chat from the road, I warn keyboardist/guitarist Ian Hultquist to make sure he wears light clothing and bring plenty of water to the notoriously sweaty venue.
“We’re getting used to that” after a summer spent playing both the cramped rooms in which an up-and-coming band makes their bones and larger, if no less sweaty, gigs like Lollapalooza, where the size of the crowd at their last-day took Hultquist by surprise. “I’m from Chicago, and I guess we expected there’d be maybe 300 people there and we get out there and there were thousands.”
Things are moving fast, helped along with a nomination for an MTV VMA in the Breakthrough Video category for “The Reeling,” that came as a surprise to everyone — most of all the band. The video is, like Passion Pit’s songs, a collage of manage to feel familiar yet authentic. Angelakos sings in an earnest falsetto that gives Passion Pit the feeling of what it would sound like if TV On The Radio’s Kyp Malone switched to bouncy dance-pop tracks.
The oddly mesmerizing video, created by a former television commercial director called Humble, is nominated alongside big-timers like Gnarls Barkley, Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Death Cab for Cutie. “For us, we all kind of grew up as kids watching [the VMAs],” Hultquist said. “We’re just all kind of in shock, because it almost seems ridiculous that we’re in this situation.”