Live: Phoenix And Passion Pit Vie For Pop Supremacy In Central Park


Phoenix/Passion Pit
Rumsey Playfield
Friday, September 25

All you Pavement fanatics would do well to remember that Central Park is a five-star venue in terms of scenery but doesn’t exactly offer pristine sound, much sonic detail merely evaporating in the crisp autumn night, which won’t much matter to those ramshackle dudes, but might louse things up when you’re dealing with two of the prettiest and most elaborately constructed pure pop records of the year. Phoenix wins this battle, handily, but of course you knew that.

Which is not to say I don’t think quite fondly of Passion Pit: Manners is fantastic, frilly and dainty in a lush and muscular way, all those carnival keyboards carrying volatile mastermind Michael Angelakos’ karaoke-proof high-pitched yelps even farther heavenward. All his eerily doppelgangerish bandmates (tousled brunettes with clunky glasses for days) handle the keybs just fine, but Mike can’t actually sing that way in tune, in person, for longer than, oh, ten seconds, so every tune is a monument to not exactly intentional suspense. Most of the choruses still kill, though. (And “Sleepyhead” is the 8th or 9th best song on that album, just FYI.)

No, this year belongs to Phoenix and Phoenix alone — Cougar Town pushed them over the edge. They’re a first-rate arena-rock band now, striking a balance between eerie precision (Thomas Mars can sing like that in person, perpetually, his voice a scale-climbing yo-yo of thrilling exactitude) and just slightly unhinged exuberance, drummer Thomas Hedlund raising his arms high and nearly launching himself out of his seat on every snare crack of “Long Distance Call.” A great many people tonight are surprised to learn they have other songs easily as good as anything off (the great) Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, that “Napoleon Says” hits just as hard as the gonzo climax of “Armistice,” that “Run Run Run” has as much slinky noir kick as “Fences.” (“Love Like a Sunset,” 10 minutes of gorgeous ambient-Eno bombast, is without parallel.) But it all still ends, of course, with “1901,” featuring a loopy extended coda wherein Mars continues howling “Fallin’! Fallin’! Fallin’! Fallin’! with increasing intensity, out of tune for the first time all night, and all the better for it.