Live Review: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong @ Frederick Fairgrounds — 10/15/20

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Pigeons Playing Ping Pong performs at Showtime at the Drive-In in Frederick on Oct. 15, 2020. (Photo by Casey Vock.)

While the memories of live music as we once knew it slip more distant into our collective memories, it’s likely that no one will forget their first experience watching a drive-in style pandemic performance.

Originating in Europe and cropping up shortly thereafter throughout the United States, drive-in concerts have already become, for some, a norm in times of required or suggested social distancing. And thanks to the work of All Good Presents and Baltimore Soundstage, music fans in the DMV this fall are being offered a somewhat unexpected harvest of live music by way of the Showtime at the Drive-In series being held at the Frederick County Fairgrounds.

Thursday, Oct. 15, would turn out to be a fitting initiation for anyone attending their first “drive-in” style live performance as Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, a rising star funk outfit from Baltimore, delivered a two-set show while attendees tailgated in their own designated areas.

The heavy smell of cheese from numerous food trucks and wafts of the earth’s medicine in the air, Pigeons lit up the covered stage to show why they are rapidly gaining popularity among jam band and electro-funk fans and are currently one of Baltimore’s most notable organic musical acts.

A curious and giggling cast of characters, Pigeons has developed a following thanks to more than ten years on the road and four studio albums that shine light on the band’s ability to compose jams both robust but unique in texture.

As the foursome’s name might illuminate, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s music is executed by way of a posse of musicians who skillfully create, manipulate and share sounds between one another at a rapid pace. They seem to celebrate and have mastered the mechanism of shifting direction as a group and they do so at breakneck speeds within their own songs and with their own twist on covers as well.

Though the bandmates clearly have an unabashed affinity for Talking Heads and other acts with influence on funk and dance music—check out their newest live release Stop Making Cake, recorded last Halloween—the hard-working Pigeons are honing their own artistic identity. Thanks to their dedication to the road, and with their own distinct, consistent artwork (shoutout to Owen Murphy Artwork), Pigeons haven’t just developed a following but a recognizable brand.

Head singer and guitarist Greg Ormont, who’d fit into the best hair bands of the 1980s, is the generator of the positive energy that defines Pigeons and their fast-paced, undulating style that powers the band through both originals and covers with both a sense of humor and love for improvisation. An inquisitive angle to his voice, Greg is dynamic in making his tone boom, as he demonstrated on the neo-funk anthem “F.U.,” or he can even croon, like he proved on the second set finale “Dawn of a New Day.”

Wearing pajama britches and sweating through his t-shirt, Greg appeared to thrive in the comfort and space of the stage, an impressive even if temporary construction that sat a good 15-feet from the closest socially-distanced member of the crowd — plenty of room for fans to bounce, twirl and shake off several months without a real live music experience. Greg offered commentary throughout the night, most of it centered on the band’s gratitude for being able to play close to home and where the band formed — the University of Maryland at College Park.

And the localism was in plain sight all evening. Sporting a Baltimore Ravens shirt as a proud reminder of the band’s Charm City origins, Jeremy Schon sliced and shredded psychedelic sounds that echoed a great distance from his Paul Reed Smith guitar — made not too far away in Stevensville. Jeremy seemed to get tighter as the night moved along, including deep into the second set on the jam to “Fox and Toad” and during one of the band’s most impressive and sophisticated epics, “Horizon.”

Watch Pigeons Playing Ping Pong perform “Horizon” live at Domefest 2016 on YouTube:

While he appeared more serious and certainly far more intimidating than his colleagues, bass player Ben Carrey displayed the same obvious sense of humor and, more importantly, the fleet flick of the fingers required to sustain long grooves with countless swings. His playful, rubbery notes — as can be heard on the night’s encore “Upfunk” — bring to mind the classic funk rhythms and boogies that inspired sounds like Pigeons’.

Alex ‘Gator’ Petropulos, who replaced the band’s original drummer in 2015, brought a healthy smile and a fitness to the kit. He pounded non-stop all night, flashing his glasses up for a quick belly laugh with any of his three counterparts. With so much color and sound barreling off the stage, Gator’s contributions could go overlooked — like on “Bad for You,” where he showed the ability to navigate out of provocative funk trenches into jazz lines or during Pigeons’ take on the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Around the World.”

Hosts of the annual Domefest event, which has been held at different locations over the years and was canceled for 2020, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong sounded and looked like the perfect band to play up the festive atmosphere of what was just the second Showtime at the Drive-In concert hosted at the Fairgrounds.

Thanking the crowd, the hosts and the venue itself before the last song of the night, Greg reminded the audience to “enjoy as much time as we can on this rock.”

Setlist

Set I:
Walk Outside
In The Bubble
Sail On
Poseidon>
And She Was
Bad for You
Move Like That>
Time To Ride

Set II:
Fade Fest
Spacejam>
The Hop>
F.U.
Fox and Toad>
Around The World
Lightning
Horizon>
Dawn a New Day

Encore:
Upfunk

Here are photos of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong performing at Showtime at the Drive-In in Frederick on Oct. 15, 2020. All photos copyright and courtesy of Casey Vock.

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