The Benefits of Surprise, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at the Hi-Fi

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Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

My recent experience at the Hi-Fi, catching funk band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on the 5th, caused me to reflect on something.Sometimes, it pays to go in blind. Such as surprise parties, or impromptu tracheotomies. Why? Because, all joking aside, total unpreparedness causes novel experiences to resonate in ways wonderful and strange. And Pigeons Playing Ping Pong was certainly wonderful and strange, of that you may rest assured.

Because I did no research, PPPP caught me completely off guard with their intense sound and adroit musicianship. As the bass throbbed in my chest cavity and twangy wah-wah pounded my eardrums, one thought looped through my mind: these guys are pretty good. Good enough that I actually, got up from taking notes and danced. Something which, as those who know me will tell you, almost never happens.

Time for a little history lesson. Beginning as a college dorm project, PPPP formed in Baltimore, back in 2009. Unfortunately for the Charm City, the Pigeons soon flew the coop, embarking on a grueling series of tours. Audiences reacted favorably to PPPP’s psychedelic funk groove, garnering PPPP a sizable fanbase who call themselves the Flock. In addition, 2010 saw PPPP self-release its first album Funk EP, which brought them even more attention. PPPP built on that attention, and after two studio albums, plus one live album, they still continue the manic pace of their tours. It’s enthusiasm like that which builds legends.

Now that we have wrapped up the history, why don’t we talk about the show? The opening act, a DJ and beatboxer called Flamingosis, was a pleasant surprise. Largely improvising, The New Jersey-based performer exorcised admirable control over his mixes and got the crowd hungry for the headliners.

There was a real party atmosphere at the Hi-Fi than night, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong more than justified it. As I looked on, the crowd erupted with a shower of applause as PPPP took the stage. As soon as frontman and lead guitarist Greg Ormont stepped up to the mike, I understood why. PPPP’s pure 70s style funk electrifies with its intensity and virtuosity. Greg Omont’s rhythmic vocals soar over Ben Carrey’s thumb-slapped bass, while Ormont and second guitar Jeremy Schon lay down percussive wah-wah riffs for an explosive combination. An unexpected treat was drummer Alex Petropulos, who thrilled us with an extended drum solo near show’s end. Using his kit’s full range, Petropulos embarked on a jazz-style improvisation which had the whole room wanting more.

PPPP bills itself as psychedelic funk, which is a bit redundant as psychedelic is one of funk’s chief stylistic influences. They get away with it though, mostly by playing up the psychedelic aspects of funk. Primarily, PPPP makes use of psychedelic rock’s tendency to indulge in extended jam sessions on stage. And this is where we come to my only criticism: the jam sessions went on a little long. Now, this is a matter of taste. I cop to that much. However, the jams sometimes grew tedious enough that I just wanted them to end.

All in all, this is a fairly minor criticism. The show was a blast and I recommend their albums to anybody with an interest in funk.

Keep listening everybody.

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