Pigeons Playing Ping Pong achieved liftoff on Friday at the ExploreAsheville.com Arena for the band’s Arena 54 New Year’s Eve finale. The Baltimore-bred funky foursome delivered a set of out-of-this-world-themed disco dance music with help from Keller WilliamsHere Come The Mummies, and Funk You.

Coming in hot from the run’s opening night on Thursday at the nearby Orange Peel, Pigeons began the show with a fitting “Distant Times”. The band’s COVID anthem was on the nose as PPPP marked one of the few major concerts taking place across the country as a result of the omicron variant. The rising surge of the new strain was visible in the ample dancing space found on the arena floor. Oh well, more room for the rest of us.

In the two slot came another bout of relevancy with “Too Long”. Even for those of us who had caught the previous night’s show, it still felt like it had been “Too Long”. The Pizazz track also marked the first appearance of Here Come the Mummies, who would add their funkified horns throughout the evening. Up next came the first of many, many covers of the evening with Bee Gees‘ dance staple “You Should Be Dancing”.

The disco-themed show took an unexpectedly psychedelic turn as the intro to Pink Floyd‘s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” rang through the arena. Those with the jaws still agape were further shocked as PPPP did a complete 180 into Elton John‘s “Rocket Man”, a bold decision considering the lack of a keyboard player onstage but the gamble proved worth the risk.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong achieved the studio oompf of “King Kong” as HCTM added horns to the track just like it did on 2020’s Presto. “Funk E. Zekiel” set up a cover train that begat cover trains, weaving through Vicki Sue Robinson‘s “Turn The Beat Around”, Earth, Wind & Fire‘s “Boogie Wonderland”, the recently-debuted original “Let The Boogie Out”, and finally Jamiroquai‘s “Cosmic Girl”.

There’s a proclivity for the rigid timing of a New Year’s Eve show to infringe on a group’s improvisational tendencies. That goes two-fold when there is a theme thrown in that necessitates the incorporation of a slew of covers. Something about the true spirit of jam bands is lost when the group is forced to keep to a strict time limit and setlist. However, what New Year’s Eve/themed shows lack in depth of improvisation, they make up for in sheer pageantry.

That being said, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong still found sonic spaces to explore on one of its more time-tested vehicles, “Ocean Flows”. Fiery Jeremy Schon leads began to crawl slower and slower as the rhythm section of drummer Alex “Gator” Petropulos and bassist Ben Carrey built up a reggae bounce. The island beats eventually manifested themselves as The Police‘s “Walking On The Moon” gave way to an “Ocean Flows” reprise to close the first set.

With roughly 15 minutes left until the ball dropped, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong returned to the stage sans guests for a “Poseidon” that was given its proper space to breathe before an avalanche of covers and onstage antics ensued. The honor of PPPP’s last song of 2021 went to “Burning Up My Time”, which transitioned into the customary “Auld Lange Syne” at the stroke of midnight.

After midnight, all bets were off for any hopes toward a “normal” Pigeons show (whatever that is). With the stage occupied by the band, Here Come the Mummies on horns, members of Funk You on percussion, Keller Williams, and a cavalcade of a dozen alien disco dancers—and, at one point, Gumby—the covers started pouring in. The new year started off right with Carl Douglas‘ “Kung Fu Fighting” ahead of Village People‘s “Macho Man” and Parliament‘s “Unfunky UFO”.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – “Burning Up My Time” > “Auld Lang Syne” > “Starman” > “Kung Fu Fighting” > “Macho Man” – 12/31/21

This begat what was referred to on the band’s written setlists as “That’s The Mashup”, anchored around KC & The Sunshine Band‘s “That’s The Way (I Like It)”, while also touching on Rick James‘ “Give It To Me Baby”, KC’s “Shake Your Booty”, Heatwave‘s “Boogie Nights”, and Anita Ward‘s “Ring My Bell”.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – “That’s The Mashup” – 12/31/21

The breakneck pace at which Pigeons ran through songs was frankly dizzying. Trying to recount the setlist requires a frame-by-frame examination worthy only of the Zapruder film. Instead of breaking down each and every cover, tease, quote, or wink that alluded to the theme, here are some highlights.

Keller Williams returned to the stage for PPPP’s usual sit-in song, “Lightning”, where he engaged in a scatting mouth-horn duel with “Scrambled” Greg Ormont. With the multitude of musicians onstage and Pigeons’ electric funk stylings, there wasn’t much room sonically for the barefooted acoustic shaman. Ever the improviser, Keller found alternative ways to make his presence known, whether vocally or in general onstage kookiness, more on that later.

“Lightning” made a quick run through Chic‘s “Le Freak” ahead of a reprisal that ultimately sent all the guests except Keller packing. Some semblance of normality ensued with “Julia”, an improvisational highlight of the evening that proved a stand-out jam with little competition.

Betwixt “Julia” came Donna Summer‘s “I Feel Love” before a funky take on the X-Files theme and some more originals with “The Hop” and “F.U.”, the latter seeing the full force of the Here Come the Mummies horns back onstage. More Chic ensued with “Good Times” ahead of a bizarre moment that saw Spongebob Squarepants creep onstage only to take off his mask revealing a robot, who then took that mask off to reveal Keller wearing an N95 mask, only to take that off and recite the beginning of Sugar Hil Gang‘s “Rapper’s Delight” ahead of an “F.U.” reprise.

Anyone who came dressed as a police officer, construction worker, Native American chief, or just wearing any leather was in luck with the Village People’s “YMCA” which would serve as the final cover of the evening. With all the craziness in the rearview mirror, it was time for some good, old-fashioned original Pigeons with the instrumental stomper “Schwanthem” to finish the marathon second set.

As the clock neared 1:30 a.m., Pigeons fired off a quick “Doc” that put a cap on an extensive and enchanting evening, sending the crowd out to face the new year.

Check out a full-show video of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s Arena 54 NYE show in Asheville, NC below. The band returns to the road on January 14th for a two-night run at The Fillmore Philadelphia. For tickets and a full list of tour dates click here.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – ExploreAshville.com Arena – Asheville, NC – 12/31/21

Setlist: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong | ExploreAsheville.com Arena | Asheville, NC | 12/31/21

Set One: Distant Times > Too Long* > You Should Be Dancing^* > Too Long* > Shine On You Crazy Diamond” > Rocket Man^ > Distant Times, King Kong*, Funk E Zekiel*# > Turn The Beat Around^*# > Boogie Wonderland^*#” > Funk E Zekiel*#, Let The Boogie Out* > Let’s Groove*^” > Cosmic Girl*^$ > Let The Boogie Out, Ocean Flows > Walking On The Moon^ > Ocean Flows

Set Two: Poseidon, Burning Up My Time& > Auld Lang Syne+ > Starman^+= > Auld Lang Syne+ > Kung Fu Fighting+*#!% > Macho Man^+*#!% > Kung Fu Fighting+*#!% > Unfunky UFO^+*%, That’s The Mashup^*\+ > Lightning*% > Le Freak*% > Lightning*%, Julia > I Feel Love^% > Julia, X-Files+ > The Hop > F.U.*+ > Good Times^*+ > Rapper’s Delight^*+% > Good Times*+ > F.U.*+ > Y.M.C.A.^*+ > Schwanthem

Encore: Doc*

Notes:
* w/ Here Come the Mummies horns
^ First time played
” Intro only
# w/ Will Foster & Palmer Owens (Funk You) on percussion
$ w/ Move On Up^ and Let’s Groove teases
& w/ Third Stone From The Sun tease; Countdown to NYE
+ w/ Alien invasion; Midnight feat. Keller Williams as alien overlord; Good Times feat. alien soul train
= Instrumental
! w/ Gnarly G & Josh Spilliards (Funk You) on horns
% w/ Keller Williams; Lightning feat. mouth trumpet battle
\ That’s The Way, Shake Shake Shake, Give It To Me Baby, Ring My Bell, Boogie Nights mashup