The Baltimore four-piece bucket of funk known as Pigeons Playing Ping Pong made a splash across the country with their live debut at Uncle Phil’s Terrapin Crossroads in San Rafael, California on Wednesday. TXR was certainly busy, with an afternoon of ‘Songs to Phil The Air’ and SoCal jam favorites The Higgs both playing free shows in the main bar.
The intimate appearance at TXR’s Grate Room – a room that barely holds 250 people – came a few days ahead of Pigeons’ festival slot at High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, CA over the holiday weekend. There was no opener, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong played two full sets highlighted by performances of “Upfunk” and “Paperboy” in the opening half, and a 20-minute “Poseidon” with guitarist Cris Jacobs and “King Kong” in the second half of the show.
Guitarists Jeremey Schon and Greg Ormont, bassist Ben Carrey, and drummer Alex “Gator” Petropulos took the stage for the first set shortly after 9 p.m. and wasted no time getting their unique and infectious brand of high-energy psychedelic funk up and running. On full display were the band’s synchronized stage movements, position switcheroos, and leaps of faith as the music flooded the intimate performance space.
The first set opened up with an old school favorite, “Funk E. Zekiel”, from their debut FUNK E P. By 9:13 p.m., the band had moved into the newer party cut “Yo Soy Fiesta”. It wasn’t really until the third song of the set, “Kiwi”, before they started to open up and stretch their jamming. A short-lived but promising jam in near the end of “Kiwi” from 2016’s Pleasure brought the room into “Upfunk”, A hard-hitting and raucous original, during which the band’s lighting tech Manny Newman took control of the spotlight for some added visual fun. Being such a tiny room, bands that come through TXR typically have a very stripped-down version of their typical lighting rig. Some of this is compensated with a series of lights that shine on each wall of the room, not just behind the band.
“Upfunk” returned to the chorus from the first jam at about the ten-minute mark before going right back into another. The second jam was highlighted by an incredibly powerful drum solo from Gator, and the song ended about 15 minutes after it started.
Part of the bands’ recent NYE gimmick featured a theme on songs originally written and performed by people named Steve, “New Year Steve” as it was referred, and on Wednesday they busted out a straightforward Steve Winwood & Traffic’s “Medicated Goo”.
“Sail On” preceded an intense “Melting Lights”, during which Ormont added a unique British accent as a subtle nod to America’s former dictators. The first set closed with “Paperboy” – a brand new original debuted at the band’s recent Domefest event, and “Live It Up”. Schon really jumped into the forefront with his guitar solo during “Paperboy”. It was creative, clean and subdued but entirely upfront. They carried that dark, disco energy through the end of the set, leaving anticipation high for set two.
Set two started off with a “Landing” form 2010’s Funk that was stretched out and jammed into “Fortress”, setting the tone for a fresh opening to the second half of the show. “Sunny Day” continued to spread dark and ominous vibes resonating throughout the crowd. “Poseidon” followed “Sunny Day”, and included a special guest sit-in from fellow Baltimore-based musician Cris Jacobs on guitar. The sit-in was easily the top highlight of the show as the song swelled, peaked, rolled back out, and then came in again more several times as all players on stage took turns showing off and building on the 20-minute take.
Another 20-minute cut followed with an enormously heavy “King Kong”. Sandwiched in the middle was a cover of Stevie Wonder‘s “Signed Sealed Delivered”, with Gator and Carrey sharing several tense moments of heavy bomb dropping solos throughout, making it one of the funkiest “Kong’s” to date, ending at 11:42 p.m.
The band “burned up their time” by taking the music into outer space and back. With a hard Terrapin curfew of 12 a.m., the band had to skip to the end of their written setlist and delivered a rowdy singalong with “Doc” from 2017’s Pizazz. After just five minutes, the second set was over. PPPP didn’t stay offstage long before coming back out for a single song encore, which heard them deliver a fairly straightforward take on “The Liquid” before wrapping the show with several minutes to spare on the curfew.
Watch the entire Terrapin performance from Wednesday in the pro-shot video below.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – Terrapin Crossroads – 7/3/2019