Since announcing his struggle with bipolar disorder last year, a single question has haunted Passion Pit lead singer Michael Angelakos: will he break?
On Friday, February 22, Angelakos underscored to the sold out show at Chicago's UIC Pavilion a resounding "No."
This wasn't always the case, however.
On August 2, 2012, Passion Pit performed for the first time since Angelakos' four week hospitalization, the band's six unexpected show cancellations, and the release of their new album Gossamer. The 1,300 fans at Chicago's House of Blues proved a snug reintroduction to the world before their Lollapalooza performance the next day in front of tens of thousands of people.
Two weeks before the event, Pitchfork published Angelakos' first public discussion on his struggle with bipolar disorder. The article proved to be a prelude to the album release of Gossamer, a diary-like picture of Angelakos' struggle, full of tales of depression, suicide attempts, and alcohol and substance abuse. In the interview he adds, "I've told people that I don't see myself living very long. That really upsets them, but I'm just being honest."
Haunting statements fill the Pitchfork article leading Larry Fitzmaurice to conclude: "Passion Pit's lifespan as a touring act could potentially be in doubt due to Angelakos' condition." Angelakos reaffirms such assertions by saying, "My lifestyle doesn't bode well with what any doctor has told me I need to do to regulate my disorder... There's this clock ticking, and at a certain point an alarm is gonna go off: 'You're done touring.'" With these statements weighing the air, occupants of Chicago's House of Blues waited eagerly, wondering if this would be one of Angelakos' last shows.
The band opened with "Take a Walk," propelling cathartic screams as fans danced to the group's synth pop rhythms, shaking the structure itself. The venue, however, wasn't the only thing shaken.
Long, awkward silences followed each song as Angelakos paced the stage, averting his eyes to the crowd and turning his back to watch the band reorganize. At one point he apologized for the long delays, citing its been a while since the band's last performance. Later, a fan holds out a copy of the new album to sign and Angelakos grabs the CD saying "So that's the cover they chose. I haven't seen it yet." Both moments provide sober reminders of Angelakos' troubled last weeks.
Despite his fragile appearance, the performance advanced a magnificent victory. It showed Angelakos pushing through his pain, proclaiming he could conquer his demons and the coming tour.
Seven months later, Passion Pit returned to Chicago in triumph. Opening with "I'll Be Alright," Angelakos stood as a man who had seen life's darkest places and prevailed.
He is still not a talker, but Angelakos seemed more relaxed as he exchanged casualties with the 7,000 people watching him. At one point he says amazed, "Jesus, there are so many people here!" An interesting statement, considering the band performed a sold out concert at Madison Square Garden on February 9. It was a monumental step, leading Angelakos to declare from the stage: "Seven months ago they told me I'd never fucking tour again, and now we're here at Madison Square Garden."
Angelakos' fairytale return is a story too rarely heard.
Since his hospitalization in July 2012, Angelakos married his long-time girlfriend, quit smoking and drinking. He has also become an advocate for bipolar awareness, encouraging open discussion and sufferers to seek help. "Bipolar disorder is a manageable disorder that does take over your life if you don't properly treat it, and I have found proper treatment, so I can happily say that I'm still creative and I'm happy." Angelakos consistently updates his Twitter page with messages from different mental health organizations, encourages fans with similar struggles, and confronts misconceptions about the disease in media, public affairs, and policies. He is also straightforward when responding to fans' questions on his health.
Why did Angelakos open himself to public criticism and the ignominy that often comes with the disorder? "What I set out to do by being open about bipolar is to destigmatize it so families can be supportive earlier on, because the longer you wait, the more likely the things that have happened to me will happen to someone in that scenario."
For now, Angelakos is in one of the best places he's ever been. On February 21 he posted on Twitter: "Never thought I'd live to be able to say that I have great doctors, a steadfast support system, amazing friends, and the love of my life."
So, what's next for the transformed Angelakos? In an interview with TimeOut Chicago, he looks forward to writing positive songs -- songs focused on love -- now that he's found stability.
"The next record will be personal but warmer and about the love of settling down. I would be interested in making an optimistic record. I haven't written an optimistic song in over ten years. I'm looking forward to writing an album about real love. I've been very narcissistic, and I'm getting bored with that." He's clearly not afraid of this new terrain.
Follow J. L. Greene on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jesgreene