Written by Margaret Cooper
Photos by Zen Focus Photography
Last weekend, Baltimore natives Pigeons Playing Ping Pong descended upon Washington, DC, to kickstart their winter tour with a 2-night hometown throwdown in the heart of the nation’s capital. Hot off the heels of the November announcement of Presto, the tour will roll through Buffalo, New York and Asheville, North Carolina before heading out west for the second leg of the trip including multiple dates across California, Oregon, Montana, and Colorado.
Friday, December 6th, the party started at the legendary 9:30 Club. Established in 1980, the acclaimed 1,200 cap venue is a staple of the east coast music scene located in the heart of Washington, DC. The night began with a very solid set by groove-rock trio Lespecial. The set continued with sit-ins on Fela Kuti-inspired “Harambe Zombie” and “Jackwise” by Ben Carrey and Alex “Gator” Petropulos of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. A stark contrast from the upbeat tone of Pigeons, Lespecial’s sound is much darker. The set also featured a number of songs from 2017’s Cheen, and a handful of songs from the Lespecial’s second studio album, 2015’s Omnisquid, including “Fruit Wolf Dance” and “Pressed for Time.” Just to keep things interesting, the band threw in covers of Britney Spears’ “Toxic” and Primus’ “Frizzle Fry.”
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong began their set with “High as Five,” followed by a simple statement from frontman Greg Ormont: “It’s good to be home.” “Something For You” got the crowd warmed up with a fantastic percussion solo/jam by the one and only Gator. The band broke out a high energy “Funk E Zekial,” followed by the aptly titled “Yo Soy Fiesta” to keep the energy moving. Casey Russell of The Magic Beans made a surprise guest appearance joining the band on keys for a jammed out for a 15 minute “Whoopie” and an absolutely incredible cover of The Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better” sandwiched between the recently released “Distant Times.” Closing out the set, “Water” served as a friendly reminder to all to hydrate during the break.
Set 2 started with a bang, moving from “Lowdown” into “Melting Lights.” Returning after the break, the energy in the room was noticeably higher. As they say, “There’s no place like the 9:30 Club.” The band continued with a “Skipjack” jam including a brief tease of The Rolling Stones’ 1966 single “Paint It Black” and then returning right back to “Skipjack.” Launching into “Landing,” the band then dropped into “Wireless,” dating back to the early days of Pigeons. Casey Russell joined the band once more for a “Kiwi” and “Live It Up.” To close out the the 9:30 Club, the band finished the night off with “Ocean Flows.”
Who am I kidding — what’s a jam show without a good encore?
Shortly after exiting the stage, the band returned with Ormont sporting a new toy — a brand-spankin’ new PRS Silver Sky for “Overrun.” Night 1 ended with a cover of the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Suck My Kiss.”
Saturday, December 7th, the flock flew down to The Anthem to make Pigeons Playing Ping Pong history with their largest show to date. Built in 2017, the venue is located along the newly developed waterfront district, the Wharf. The 7,000 cap space features 3 tiers, 7 bars, and more bathrooms than I could count. With ample room to dance, free water, a full menu, and great visibility throughout, The Anthem was nothing short of luxurious — a far cry from the big box city venues that I typically frequent. The night opened with the mysterious Here Come The Mummies, a group of incredibly talented musicians who are forced to keep their identities under wraps. Some rumors say that they are dead cursed to walk the Earth for all of eternity, others recount contractual obligations that prevent them from playing music together. Whatever the case may be, the Mummies know how to keep things fresh in the afterlife. With a lively brass section, plenty of hype, and coordinated dance moves, the collective is undeniably fun (seriously – love the coordinated moves, can more bands get on board?). Highlights of their performance include a “Bring That Down” double flute beat-box breakdown, a “Friction” that sent sparks, and a confetti cannon.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong entered the stage with style, strumming the first few notes of the “Star Spangled Banner” to herald the beginning of night 2. The Mummies had already gotten the crowd in tune with the groove and the flock had no problem getting down to jam-heavy “Pop Off” at the start of the night. The band then began “Poseidon,” featuring a beautiful introduction by Schon. Casey Russell came back for round 2, joining the band for “Henrietta.” While “Henrietta” was, in fact, funky, Ormont had other plans; “We can get a little funkier.” Enter: Here Come the Mummies’ brass section. No strangers to one another, Pigeons teamed up with the Mummies on their “King Kong” music video this past October. The Pigeons-Russell-Mummie trifecta took us all on a journey with an incredible “King Kong” jam with a midway bust-out of Stevie Wonder’s soul classic, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered (I’m Yours).” Russell and the Mummies departed for “Dawn a New Day,” the first single announced off Presto and the name of the band’s recently established foundation. With a goal of giving back and supporting organizations leaving a positive impact on the community, the foundation is currently partnered with Backline, focusing on the importance of mental health and wellness in the music industry as a whole. The set finished strong with a brassy interpretation of “The Liquid” with a little help from the Mummies.
Set 2 began with Pigeons classic, “Julia.” With that hooky riff perfect for singing along, the band joined in for a few “doo-do-do-do-do-dooos” nearing the end of the song. Psychology’s “Upfunk” got the crowd warmed up before breaking out the top-shelf jam reserve collection. Joined once again by Casey Russell and Here Come the Mummies’ brass, the dream team broke out “Doc” before moving into an incredible “Burning Up My Time” jam with “Sir Real” sandwiched in there somewhere. Schon worked his magic on a beautiful introduction to “Horizon.” Pigeons’ quintessential “hug your friends” song, “Horizon” has always been a crowd pleaser (and a personal favorite of mine). The band did not hesitate to jam on the immensely positive song, exploring the darker side of things before looping back into the sun. The band debuted a brand new song before ending the night with Psychology’s “F.U.” and “Schwanthem.“