Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (photo: Joshua Huver)
The four-piece bucket of funk from Baltimore known as Pigeons Playing Ping Pong sold out their San Francisco debut on Friday night February 17 at The Independent and commemorated the evening as an official album release party.
The band’s first live album, The Great Outdoors Jam, is curated from their live appearance at the festival of the same name in Florida. Although they only have two LPs and an EP (all self-released and funded through the dedicated group of fans known as The Flock), the live show has been the cornerstone of the band’s word-of-mouth popularity, and many of their shows are subject to being recorded and shared on archive.org.
Any band with the level of enthusiasm Pigeons Playing Ping Pong displays is bound to add a few devotees to their flock, and the band managed to sell out their San Francisco debut. Just before 11pm, The Independent swelled as an early Jackson 5 hit faded from the PA for guitarist and lead singer Greg Ormont, guitarist Jeremy Schon, bassist Ben Carrey, and drummer Alex Petropulos took the stage to a collective release of appreciation.
Back East, they have been hosting their own music festival, Domefest, for every year that they have been a band. Part of their draw is their obvious end-of-the-world enthusiasm for the stage and the music they bring to life. There is never a shortage of high voltage, eye-popping energy beaming from the stage — Ormont’s wild facial expressions, Carrey’s penchant for tie-dye, and Schon’s incessant head bobbing often come together for loosely choreographed on-stage spins, jumps, and poses.
Aside from introducing the band’s name and some banter early on, the band largely kept the songs at 130% at all times, beginning with “Walk Outside” from their most recent album, Pleasure. “Porcupine,” a fan favorite that hasn’t made an appearance on one of their two albums followed.
An upbeat and jazzy tune, it was almost indecipherable the moment they took the song into The Cantina Band song, but the crowd eventually picked up. After a solid run through they returned to finish “Porcupine.”
“Melting Lights” followed, and was one of the first songs that turned me on to Pigeons Playing Ping Pong when their first LP, Psychology, was released in 2014 and it segued beautifully into another fan favorite, “Poseidon.” Check out the entire segment below.
Half an hour into the show, they paused for the first time before the next song: A huge, standalone take on their 2014 original “Upfunk.” They really stretched “Upfunk” out, with wildly fun, fast and furious guitar work from Schon before the second chorus, and a more hard rock and roll jam that ended with a drum solo to lead into the closing section of the song.
A new original, “Henrietta” segued into “Drunk People” which segued into the Talking Heads’ 1977 breakout debut single “Psycho Killer.” To make things even wilder, the Talking Heads nod was ‘inverted’ and went back into “Drunk People” with a Jack White-esque take on the guitar before diving into the end of the tune.
The next song they played was “Horizon”, a song about the euphoric experience of going to see a live band performing. There is a bit of irony with this one, as the song is specific to a concert that the band saw together: Lotus, who had played the very same room the week before. Check out their performance below.
“Horizon” ended shortly after 12:20AM and the non-stop segues continued, melting right into “Something For Ya” and “Fortress”. Typically when you have a band that employs improvisation, writing new set lists for every show and an apparently endless trove of originals and covers, it’s rare to find repeat segments.
But, for reasons unknown, the show closing segment of “Spacejam” > “The Hop” > “F.U.” is a favorite of the band, allowing Carrey to really shine by kicking the whole thing off with an extended bass solo, ending the set with “F.U.” “F.U.” of course, being one half of of the chorus that ends “N.K.” is the lead track to Psychology and a track that anyone well-versed in the upwelling of funk music ought to be familiar with. Check it out below.