This past week seemed to go on forever. In between school and work shifts, all people could talk about was Saturday night and how wild it was going to be. Since their last appearance at the Lazy Dog in Boulder, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (PPPP) has been racking up new friends and fans out west with serious momentum. While I missed most of their recent Colorado run, I was able to catch them open for Twiddle (who has a very similar story of an East Coast band reaching great success out West), at the Fox Theater in Boulder. The Baltimore native quartet is comprised of Greg Ormont (Lead Vocals, Guitar), Jeremy Schon (Lead Guitar, Vocals), Ben Carrey (Bass, Vocals), and Dan Schwartz (Drums, Vocals). Founded in December of 2007, PPPP performs over 100 shows per year, concentrated mostly on the East Coast, but often making the voyage out West and to the rest of the country.
I first caught wind of PPPP after my friends saw them on their previous Colorado run. The words they used to describe them sounded like this, “funky”, “hilarious”, “really fucking sick”. They raved about them all year, one friend even keeping a Pigeons CD in his car, bumping it every time he drove up to Red Rocks this summer (which was a lot of times). After listening to some songs from the CD as well as Archive, I came to the uninformed conclusion that these guys, while clearly very practiced, were more or less a silly novelty of a band who’s main focus was getting more absurd every show. After seeing them for the first time, this all changed.
The boys took the stage at about nine pm sporting pajama pants and tie-dye leggings with bowling shoes and stuffed animals tied onto their mic stands. Front man, Greg, welcomed the crowd of about 30 people, and then they set off with a quick 20th Century Fox Theme opener, an obvious nod to the legendary Fox Theater that they were about to crush. The first full song of the show was Funk E Zekiel off of Funk E P. This sweet tune was a perfect introduction to the band for all those new to the flock (the name of Pigeons’ followers). What started as a spacey, majory jam quickly got kicked into a high gear funk groove reminiscent of a Meters tune that sparked the small crowd into dance. Greg laid back on a rhythmic guitar groove that laid a solid platform for lead shredmaster, Jeremy, to feed us the spicy melody that drove the song. This tune presented us with the paradigm that most of Pigeons’ songs followed for the rest of the night:
Spacey, Majory, guitar jam with a healthy amount of delay that creates a swirling soundscape only to be broken up when Drummer, Dan and Bassist, Ben get to a peakàBreakàSuper fat funk grooveàMore breaks/Jeremy shredsàSpacey Jams/Jeremy shreds.
All that was missing in the groove was Greg’s booming voice that’s as grandiose as his Afro. After Funk E Zekiel, we got our first taste of Greg’s energy when he welcomed the small crowd once again, echoing loudly above a fat bass and drum groove via Ben and Dan. At this moment I clearly remember thinking that he reminded me of the Lollypop man from P-Funk. I cannot underestimate the power of Greg’s charisma. Everyone can agree that when they see the band having as much fun as them, it only makes the experience that much better. Greg is the epitome of an artist connecting with the crowd; a smile rarely escapes his face, and he’s always moving. Often times when I see an artist showing that much energy, it seems forced and fabricated. However, with Pigeons, I never felt that once. No matter how bizarre they got with their choreographed dance moves or how often Greg echoed himself with his own voice, I never felt one bit of inauthenticity. These guys may be a little nuts, but they are extremely passionate about what they do. This became clear through their performance as well as shooting the shit with them after their set. At the end of this year, they will have played about 180 shows, and that statistic speaks for itself.
Other highlights from their Saturday night set included an original titled, Julia, and one of the best renditions of Psycho Killer I’ve ever seen (and I’ve seen the Motet do it twice). Julia begins with a quick spacey jam that gives way to the dominant guitar melody from Jeremy that I could only describe as a light, airy, bohemian string of notes, with a touch of some Cinninger Umph. Then, Greg lays some smooth lyrics that build in energy until the immensely catchy chorus flows in. Someone in the band had a great idea to shove a samba-style jam right in the middle of the tune, and it really works! They bust right out of the end of the digression and straight back into the song’s main major progression, but with the addition of Jeremy shredding at full steam. A couple transitions and an excellent Mario jam later, the first notes of Psycho Killer rang out from Ben’s bass. They got a wah-heavy groove going and then busted into the verse with Greg leading the charge. He screamed where the lyrics need screaming but never he never distorted his voice at all or muddled the words. As I watched Greg echo his own singing, getting higher and higher until he faded out like a cartoon, it became clear to me that early what seemed like a silly antic now materialized itself as a well-deployed musical tool.
The last song I have to mention also happened to be the last of the set. Couldn’t We All is funky hip-hop song with a chilled out bluesy chorus that begs you to sing along. Towards the end of the jam, the band segued into the funk jam of Phish’s Y.E.M. and really got the now 400+ audience members jumping and howling. I absolutely love this shit. I am disappointed in the number of really youthful jam bands that try so hard to avoid sounding like the archetypes of the genre that they almost deny their influences. However, I take great joy in seeing a young band project their own unique image and style while at the same time display their influences proudly and send their appreciation to the greats by playing their songs and doing them justice.
PPPP are on their way back to the East coast as I write this, playing shows all along the way. They add more shows to their tour schedule all time, and are always delivering more surprises (including a return trip to Colorado in the spring) to the flock. This is the part of the review where I tell you if you haven’t experienced the wild display of funkadelic musical expression that is Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, then get out there and go get your wings! They play just about 50 percent of the year, so chances are, if you look online you might just find them blasting off at your local venue or at a wide array of music festivals.|