Over 2,100 students attended the spring A&O Ball at the Riviera Theater on Friday, according to A&O Productions. Buses loaded up in front of SPAC and Cahn to transport students downtown to see rapper Talib Kweli and synthpop band Passion Pit.
“Where’s Northwestern at in this motherfucker?” Kweli shouted as he opened the show dressed in black jeans and a gray jacket.
With accompaniment by DJ Hi-Tek, whom Kweli records with under the name Reflection Eternal, the show wasn’t entirely solo. Kweli kicked off his set with “Move Something,” a song from Reflection Eternal’s 2000 debut, Train of Thought. It’s been a while since Kweli went solo, as his last album, Ear Drum, came out in 2007. But with a new Reflection Eternal album due in May – the duo’s first album in 10 years – Kweli still had something to promote.
“Ya’ll sound good out there,” he said before introducing some upcoming material. “We’ve got to give them something for that. Let’s give them some new shit.”
The acapella “Revolutions per Mindset’s” showcased his rapid-fire rhyming ability while “Midnight Hour,” another upcoming Reflection Eternal song that features Estelle, had its live debut that evening. Kweli didn’t ignore his bigger hits either, performing his verse from Kanye West’s “Get ‘Em High” as well ”Definition,” a song by Black Star, his side project with fellow rapper Mos Def.
The crowd’s biggest response came with fan favorite and set closer “Get By,” one of the breakthrough songs off his 2002 solo debut, Quality. As screen images of civil rights leaders accompanied the song’s recognizable bass line, Kweli called for all hands in the air.
And while he had fans responding to every such call, Passion Pit, on the other hand, didn’t even have to ask.
Opening with “I’ve Got Your Number” from 2008’s, Chunk of Change, the Cambridge, Mass. band was greeted with a wall of raised hands and fist pumps. As the song’s beat bopped along to the chorus of synthesizers, frontman Michael Angelakos sang in his trademark falsetto and danced in a way only he could make cool. Playfully banging his microphone around like a drumstick, he didn’t have much to say. But the band’s routine was more laid-back and effortless than aloof.
With only one full album under its belt, it’s no surprise that the band stuck to songs from Manners, which came out last year. All but two songs on the record touch the four minute mark, with many even pushing five. But with the way the songs run together live, the show was more of an extended dance party. In a time where MGMT takes conscious efforts to avoid making mainstream hits, it’s refreshing to see Passion Pit so happily decorate their songs in pop hooks yet not seem any less artful or legitimate.
“So last night we played the Congress Theater, was anyone there?” Angelakos said as the band finished playing “Swimming in the Flood.” The A&O ball is the third time the band has played in Chicago this month. Later he asked, “How many of you are hearing us for the first time tonight?” and got an even greater response, proving that it’s not hard to get on board with Passion Pit’s sound.
SESP freshman Kelly Tausk, who went to one of the band’s other Chicago dates earlier this month, said the Northwestern audience was just as energetic.
“People were into it, even the people that didn’t really know Passion Pit that well,” she said. “You can’t not dance to it. It’s just that fun.”
When the house lights flashed during “Little Secrets,” not only were most students in attendance dancing, but it looked like most people knew the words as well. Of course, with the song’s sing-a-long refrain of “higher and higher and higher,” it wasn’t hard for a sea of eager students to learn on the spot.
Carolyn Goldschmidt, Weinberg senior and director of concerts for A&O, said she was happily surprised at how well the band connected with Northwestern.
“I didn’t realize how big of draw the band had, but I was happy to see people singing along,” she said. “I think they put on a great show. The band pumped up the crowd and the crowd pumped up the band.”
For Weinberg sophomore Anna Balabanova, the Northwestern atmosphere contributed to the show’s energy.
“The fact that it was all Northwestern students gave me a sense of community,” said Balabanova, who didn’t consider herself a Passion Pit fan before the show. “It felt like a bonding experience. They would have been good at a non-Northwestern concert, but it was fun that we were all there together.”