Pigeons Playing Ping Pong (photo: Joshua Huver)
Roughly half an hour before the funky foursome from Baltimore took to the stage and one day before the official release date of October 20, Billboard premiered PIZAZZ, the fourth studio effort from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
Thursday, October 19 marked the second appearance at the Independent and in the Bay Area for the fledgling flock of musicians, who have been performing together since they were living in dorm rooms at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. They’ve even consistently thrown a successful music festival every year since 2009, called Domefest.
At first glance, there is hardly anything that seems unique about a four-piece funk band that is popular on the East Coast jam band and festival circuit — bands of that ilk seem to be a dime a dozen, and usually sound the same. But Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, often simplified to PPPP or 4P by fans (who refer to themselves as #TheFlock), are as much fun on stage as their name implies. The music is damn catchy, too.
Stopping in San Francisco and in Santa Cruz on Friday, PPPP are on an extensive fall run to promote the new album, which was made available world wide on Friday, October 20. They sold out both rooms, as well as their debut appearance at the Independent in February.
On this tour they invited fellow East Coast original and similarly bird-brained homie Flamingosis to open. I’m a big fan of letting the live experience move me whenever possible, and prefer in-person introductions. Having relied on this method, I was pretty surprised and admittedly a bit disappointed when I learned that Flamingosis was but a lone DJ — I can appreciate, but rarely seek out, DJs.
But lo and behold, I was thoroughly impressed with his chilled-out vibe. Flamingosis reminds me a lot of the DJ duo Poolside, and by the end of the set I was won over. A brief technical difficulty was handled with class, and made the DJ set feel even more human.
By the time PPPP took to the stage, the floor had filled up, and there was little room to flap one’s wings let alone let the head bob, but the anticipation in the crowd was met with equal excitement from the four musicians. Bassist Ben Carrey, lead vocalist Greg Ormont, lead guitarist Jeremy Schon and drummer Alex Petropulos, manage to maintain a serious demeanor most of the time, but generally are caught with wide-eyed and wide-mouthed expressions of unbridled joy.
Opening up with “Whoopie” from their 2016 release Pleasure, they quickly launched into their first extended section of music. “Time To Ride” is a fan favorite from 2014’s Psychology, and they stuffed it full of Pleasure‘s “Kiwi” before coming back to finish “Time To Ride.” Check it out below:
They continued bouncing around between their previous albums and sandwiched the funk classic “Kung Fu Fighting” in the middle of their original track “Burning Up My Time.” One of the things that makes PPPP so damn exhilirating to catch live is not simply the rawness of their on-stage energy, but the careful synchronization that gets tossed into the mix as well. During “Kung Fu Fighting,” for instance, well-timed kicks on stage accented the chorus.
A high energy segue bled into the next tracks, “Offshoot” and “Somethin For Ya,” the first songs from their newest release, PIZAZZ. There is a buzz circulating that “Somethin For Ya” might have real mainstream appeal, so start paying attention — you might be able to be in before they blow up. “Stay,” an older track from their 2010 debut LP FUNK EP and Psychology‘s “Julia” closed the set.
Set two started maybe fifteen minutes after the first had ended — which is kind of amazing to think about given the demand of their stage presence. A standalone “Whirrled,” a newer song that has only been played a handful of times since debuting late in 2016, kicked things off before Schon’s delay-riddled guitar took center stage for “Horizon.” A 10-minute odyssey that recounts an adventure to see Lotus perform, “Horizon” was second and only repeat in the set from their February appearance. (“Something For Ya” being the first.)
“We’ve really been feeling the West Coast love out here and now that we have Pizazz done and it’s printed and out here for ya, we’ve been writing a lot of brand new music so we’re going to play a brand new song for ya,” said Ormont. “That one’s done on to the next, right? We also felt like a sold-out show in San Francisco deserved a new song, ya know?”
Following the debut of “Dawn A New Day,” Pigeons moved into “The Liquid” off of Pizazz followed the new track, which was in turn followed by “Bad For You,” another newer song that saw its 10th play since debuting nearly two years ago.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong has a seriously sophomoric and silly approach to their songwriting, with many of their albums focusing on partying, sex, and all the debauchery in between. They have a handful of songs that rotate between veritable anthems of the band and their fans, the newest of which they played next. With a chorus that includes lines like “We put the fun, in funk / it’s stanky like a skunk / we put the fun, in funk / our shit is never bunk,” not only are they open with their audience, they encourage safe and knowledgeable use. And let’s be honest, that’s 100% better than ignoring the topic all together.
For the last two songs of the set, PPPP delivered a hot rock and roll sandwich followed by a soulful and high-flying finish. Their original song “Burnin Up My Time” featured a full stop and dive into “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath before jamming back into the end of “Burnin.” They ended the second set with a phenomenal take on one of my favorite tracks from the new album, “Ocean Flows” and returned to the stage for a single song encore: “Schwanthem,” an instrumental dance groove from Psychology.
These guys will be back, and if they’re content with regularly selling out the Independent, I wouldn’t sleep on their next tour. Maybe the gentleman I spoke with at the show will follow through and we will find Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at a late night Vaudeville set at next year’s High Sierra.