Passion Pit
Newport Music Hall, Columbus, September 29
by Jennifer Farmer

There was scarcely a dry body in the venue by the time Passion Pit strolled offstage left at Columbus’ Newport Music Hall last Tuesday night—and there were many bodies amassed in this sweaty milieu indeed, as the show was sold out. These five young men from Boston are in the midst of a whirlwind year, playing festivals as large as Glastonbury. Hence, it was strangely refreshing to see the excitement they brought to the prospect of selling out the Newport.

The mood was reminiscent of an ’80s coke-fueled dance party, though substitute two pints of vastly overpriced Newport beers for the lines. It was certainly a strange mix of people in attendance: half drunk bros and half too-cool-to-dance hipsters, though by the end, the whole place was moving. The band got the crowd going with a rendition of “Eyes as Candles” from Manners. They stuck to promoting the debut album most of the night, but mixed in the old songs as well.

The pace was at first spastic, slowed, then spastic again. It’s difficult to pin Passion Pit into any one genre, which could be good for them in the long run. It’s just honest, upbeat, fun music—nothing too deep to handle, just easily digestible dance-pop. Still, they distill a multitude of influences into that simple sound. There were definite bright spots among the show, among them a different rendition of “I Got Your Number,” which I was anticipating, but the crowd took no real notice of Angelakos’ screaming falsetto. The synth and sampling was almost as heavy as the dancing. Somehow, Angelakos managed to keep up the falsetto throughout, just as the band managed to keep the energy sky high the entire time. It was nice to hear a sped-up, more rock version of “Smile Upon Me,” the band playing a bit with the tempo and sampling during this song. The playfulness continued with the hit from their EP, “Sleepyhead,”again slightly different with more drums and less synths.

With critical praise and a growing fanbase since receiving hype from critics after the release of Manners, if their show in Columbus was any indication, they are in no danger of losing steam any time soon. They walked on to a crowd wrought with anticipation, calling their name, and walked off to the same.

Austin City Limits Music Festival
Zilker Park, Austin, October 2–4
by Alexandra Kelley

As you would expect from Texas, the Austin City Limits Music Festival is big: big line-ups, big performances, and big bacchanalia. This year the eight-year-old festival got hit with something entirely uncharacteristic: big rain. More than 65,000 fans traipsed through 350 acres of mud to see 130 bands on eight stages.

Day 1
Things got off to a slow start with the Avett Brothers. After attempting to absorb their tepid ruegrass, I weaved through a sea of bongs and dreads to catch the end of Dr. Dog’s set. Their psychedelic organ-rock reminded me of Guided By Voices by way of ELO. Several pretty hippie kids sang every word to every song. There were no wafts of wacky tobacky when the Walkmen performed, just a barrage of sports jerseys and Evian bottles. Hamilton Leithauser sang a little off-key, but no one seemed to care. The day’s first redemptive moment came courtesy of Phoenix. In front of their largest crowd to date, they unwrapped a collection of pristine and breathtaking songs including “Too Young” and “Everything Is Everything.” I’m so grateful to have been introduced to Bassnectar. The San Francisco DJ and his turntable brigade lured thousands of passersby with rhythmic, sweaty samples of Blur’s “Song 2” and Modern English’s “I Melt With You.” I reached Thievery Corporation long enough to capture “Lebanese Blonde.” On the opposite side of the park John Legend and his decked out production, complete with horn section and three back-up singers, covered Michael Jackson’s “Remember The Time,” and the Beatles’ “I Want You (She’s So Heavy).” He was fierce, and he was smooth.

So much hype surrounded the newly formed supergroup Them Crooked Vultures that expectations were high. A hefty Dave Grohl pounded the guts out of his kit, and John Paul Jones’ bass and piano mastery were stunning. But songs like “Mind Eraser” and “Scumbag Blues” sounded tinny, and Josh Homme’s vocals were shrill in the upper ranges. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, who sat in for the Beastie Boys, closed the evening with mystical fury. Elaborate props and backdrops aside, the un-tame Karen O channeled sex and giddiness and androgyny like a hot pink scorpion.

Day 2
Torrential rain sideswiped Austin all day Saturday. Veteran reggae performer Eek-A-Mouse covered Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and repeatedly voiced his soft spot for the ganga. And then came Mos Def. With two deejays on stage with him and one suspender slung across his side, he rapped swiftly, pounded some ivories, and covered Radiohead’s “All I Need.” DeVotchKa started late because of the weather but quickly compensated with a rousing blend of mariachi and Slavic beats. I wanted to get lost in STS9’s third ACL appearance but couldn’t feel their post-rock dance vibes after Mos Def. Austin’s own Ghostland Observatory earned immediate props for convincing thousands of people to eschew Dave Matthews. Their camp-and-vamp funk electronica reminded me of Gil Mantera or a Native American Axl Rose. “Sad Sad City” was the highlight.

Day 3
Whether you like them or not, the B-52s are an institution. Yes, they’ve aged. Yes, after a while the songs sounded the same. But it was cool watching young girls in the front rows look up to Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson, and it was fun hearing “Private Idaho” and “Funplex.” Clutch rocked, plain and simple. That’s all you need to know. I think White Lies has an obsession with death. Songs like “To Lose My Life” and “From The Stars” were about dying, funerals and taxidermy. Good luck with all that. I hoofed all the way to the Toadies for “Possum Kingdom.” It was great, and that was all I needed. Dirty Projectors were a boatload of mirth and harmony, even though most people were camped out to see Passion Pit or Girl Talk. The Dead Weather also received their share of supergroup hype. Alison Mosshart demonstrated her slinking prowess and Jack White is, as always, a superb showman, but last year’s Raconteurs set far succeeded this. Michael Franti & Spearhead’s thumping reggae hip-hop madness stopped me in my muddy tracks. I wanted to hear more but sallied forth to see the legendary Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Although these New Orleans jazz musicians prefer playing acoustically, they plugged in for one of their largest ever crowds and nailed Louis Armstrong’s “Old Man Mose.” Performers like these epitomize Old World style and technique. It took me a minute to adjust to Dan Auerbach with two drummers and a full band. He played a shiny Gibson instead of the beat-up Telecaster that he used to stake the Black Keys’ fame, but his guttural moans and dark Delta riffs still put me in a trance.

And then there was Pearl Jam, the performance that capped off the whole shebang, the one everyone wondered about but didn’t mention for fear of jinxing or sounding passe. They hadn’t played in Austin for 14 years. I had never seen them but coaxed myself through many unbearable teenage nights with Ten in my boombox and a pack of cloves in my lap. They opened with “Why Go,” and tears fell off my face. Nostalgia is such a bastard. Among a slew of new material that I won’t pretend to know, they performed “Daughter,” “Alive,” “Evenflow,” and “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter In a Small Town,” which spurned more streaks of saline. They brought Ben Harper and Perry Farrell on stage and ended with “Rockin’ In The Free World.” Sometimes music affects you so much that you lose your cool. And that’s cool.