Pigeons Playing Ping Pong celebrated their biggest headlining show to date with a psychedelic New Year’s Eve journey at Asheville, NC’s ExploreAsheville.com Arena, billed as “The Electric Kool-Aid Asheville Test.”
After a sold-out show at The Orange Peel the previous evening, the band tested The Flock on the last night of 2019 with a musical trip through the night’s psychedelic theme, based around the famous Tom Wolfe non-fiction chronical of Ken Kesey, the Merry Pranksters, and the Acid Tests, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. A Pigeons show is always full of tricks and surprises, but the band drove The Flock into 2020 leaving no part of the arena untouched, creating an immersive three-set concert experience.
The Flock walked into the 7,000-capacity arena and found the space to be lit up with dozens of live painters and mischievous Merry Pranksters inspired by the psychedelic ’60s. The arena space allowed The Flock to spread their wings and enjoy the large room to its fullest before New York-based prog-jam outfit and Domefest alumni, TAUK, kicked off the evening at 8:15 p.m. The group’s 75-minute performance warmed up the evening’s celebrations, and full party-mode began as the group slipped into a well-received cover of Snopp Dogg’s “Gin and Juice” during their set.
Dazzling the gathered revelers with their appropriately glow-painted outfits, Greg Ormont, Jeremy Schon, Ben Carrey, and Alex Petropulos started the last night of 2019 with a head-smacking “High As Five” jam. Petropulos took lead vocals on the second-ever cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”, the night’s first psychedelic ’60s throwback, which seamlessly flowed right into funky PPPP original, “Melting Lights”. Melting lights were indeed on the walls of the arena as the guys took the classic track into a deep groove, rocking into “Avalanche” territory. Carrey’s tumbling bass grooves set the foundation for Schon’s psychedelic guitar takeover, driving fans to the brink before Ormont started into the band’s debut of Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic”. The 1968 track got a great vocal rundown by Ormont before the band backed up into the hard and heavy ending of “Avalanche”.
The beachy opening to “Fox And Toad” lightened up the energy in the room before the Here Come The Mummies horn section joined the PPPP onstage for a hazy “King Kong” sandwich. Just as on the studio version of the track set to appear on the band’s upcoming album, Presto, “King Kong” took fans on a funky ride with echoing trumpet and trombone melodies infused with a take on “Purple Haze”, marking the 1967 Hendrix track’s first Pigeons appearance since Domefest 2018. Here Come The Mummies “kissed the sky” with their horns in the second section of “King Kong” before exiting the stage for the band to end the first set with a mighty “Poseidon” mashup. The band took the sailing jam into the Grateful Dead’s “Eyes Of The World”, Ormont reminding us that we’re “the size of a squirrel” with an amusing lyrical switch-up, a nod to the verision of the song they played at their The Capitol Theatre debut in early 2019. A huge psychedelic breakdown of the classic Dead staple stirred back up the grand peak of “Poseidon” as the clock struck 11 p.m.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – “Poseidon” – 12/31/19
[Video: Live For Live Music]
Dead pigeons skeleton dancers hyped up The Flock during the first set break of the night with some on-stage comedic commentary and antics blowing up balloons, and playing ping pong with an enormous balloon before it popped, leading the night into the second set.
Just 30-minutes from the countdown, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong appropriately began their second set of the night—and their last set of the 2019 calendar year—with Pink Floyd’s “Time”, bringing out TAUK keyboardist Alric “A.C.” Carter for some added keyboard texture and synth waves. A chill went out throughout the crowd as Ormont sang out the lyrics, “And then one day you’ll find / Ten years have gone behind you / No one told you when to run / You missed the starting gun” as the new decade drew closer. The classic rock anthem slipped into the opening of “The Hop”, which greeted another funky horn party with Here Come The Mummies in “F.U.” Just 10 minutes until 2020 arrived, the band proposed a toast to The Flock for an amazing decade and another 10 great years before setting off on a psychedelic trip with a seven-layered “Time To Ride” countdown.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong w/ Here Come The Mummies Horns- “Time” > “The Hop” > “F.U.” – 12/31/19
[Video: Pigeon Fan Cam]
A Grateful Dead bear and Kool-Aid Man then joined the band onstage and started building up walls, piquing the curiosity of the crowd right before the guys slipped into another Pink Floyd anthem, “Another Brick In The Wall”, to start the crazy countdown mashup. Lighting Designer Manny Newman painted a psychedelic dream state with swirling lights around the arena as Ormont counted down from 10 to land us into the next decade.
Kool-Aid Men broke through the walls as the celebratory “Auld Lang Syne” rang down on the crowd and hundreds of ballrooms and piles of confetti swirled around the arena, every Flocker embracing the new year and the love around them. A “Further Bus” Chinese Dragon flew throughout the crowd to greet 2020 and the sequential instrumental mashup of “Auld Lang Syne” and Peter, Paul and Mary’s “Puff The Magic Dragon”. The increasingly large cast of characters was soon joined by TAUK and Here Come The Mummies for a family affair funk dance party sequence including “Get Down On It”, “Jungle Boogie” and “Hollywood Swinging”, all Pigeons debuts.
The Here Come The Mummies horns took turns sending off the melody of the 1973 Kool & The Gang track, before TAUK’s “A.C.” grabbed the arena’s attention for a boogey-breakdown in “Celebration”. The Kool-Aid Man shot jello shots out to the crowd and started crowd “surfing” and doing headstands on his magical jello-shot board as The Beatles’ “Tomorrow Never Knows” led the way into “Time To Ride” to bring the second set to a close.
It was evident that The Flock had passed “The Electric Kool-Aid Asheville Test” with flying colors, and Ormont congratulated the band, The Flock, the artists, and the Merry Pranksters for helping everyone make the grade before taking their first set break of the new year. An array of Merry Pranksters walked the stage for “The Electric Kool-Aid Asheville Test” graduation, setting the high-flying spirit before the upcoming third and final set.
Starting the final exam of the night, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong returned to the stage at 12:45 a.m. for the night’s final, 75-minute psychedelic expedition. The Flock caught a breath of fresh air on an opening “Walk Outside”, Petropulos leading the rest of the band into a rhythm jam breakdown.
The scene inside the venue continued to become more and more surreal with “Sir Real”. Newman illuminated the flashing lights while the band laid down psychedelic sounds that slipped into a mashed-up debut of “All Along The Watchtower” (written by Bob Dylan and popularized by Hendrix) and Electric Light Orchestra’s “Evil Woman”, cleverly dubbed “All Along The Evil Woman”. Ormont and Carrey switched off lead vocals for the mashup before Schon took it to its musical peak and lead the band back into the ending of “Walk Outside”. The eighth debut of the night came next with Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire”, the funk on full blast with some toasty sit-in jams by TAUK guitarist Matt Jalbert & keyboardist “A.C.”
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong – “All Along The Evil Woman” [“Evil Woman”/”All Along The Watchtower” Mashup] > “Walk Outside” – 12/31/19
[Video: Live For Live Music]
A sincere celebration of the life, music, and love surrounding the band and The Flock emerged with 2020’s first “Horizon”, the gentle circulating ending melody resonating throughout the crowd. The frenzied “Offshoot” coaxed the crowd into a psychedelic trance, but was quickly brought back to the universe with a groovy, “electric” mashup “Electric Slide” and “Electric Avenue”, dubbed “Electric Slide Avenue”, featuring amusing teases of Kid Rock‘s “Bawitdaba”.
Carrey eventually broke back into the deep and dark bass grooves to bring back “Offshoot”, before the final set’s final song greeted the new decade with the joyous “Dawn A New Day” featuring Here Come The Mummies horns. The loudest Flock cheer of the night emerged from the arena to bring the band back out just two minutes later for their encore. Bringing back the Here The Mummies horns, the theme-appropriate original “The Liquid” dripped some frenzied funk energy onto The Flock, allowing all the Asheville test-takers to leave behind their nine-to-fives with a celebratory, show-closing “Ocean Flows”.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong have a lot to look forward to in this new decade. With a solid 10 years under their belt, the band has a very bright and free-flying musical journey ahead of them. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong will kick off the new year on Jam Cruise 18 on January 7th–12th and take a well-deserved break before hitting winter tour with a slew of tour dates starting in February. For a full list of upcoming tour dates, head to the band’s website.
Below, check out a gallery of photos from the Pigeons Playing Ping Pong “Electric Kool-Aid Asheville Test” New Year’s Eve celebration below via photographer Kendall McCargo.
Setlist: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong | ExploreAsheville.com Arena | Asheville, NC | 12/31/19
Set One: High As Five, White Rabbit > Melting Lights > Avalanche > Crosstown Traffic^ > Avalanche, Fox And Toad, King Kong* > Purple Haze* > King Kong*, Poseidon > Eyes of World > Poseidon
Set Two: Time^ > The Hop > F.U.*, Time To Ride > Auld Lang Syne > Puff The Magic Dragon > Auld Lang Syne, Get Down On It^* > Jungle Boogie^*, Hollywood Swinging^*, Celebration^* > Tomorrow Never Knows > Time To Ride
Set Three: Walk Outside > Sir Real > All Along The Evil Woman^ > Walk Outside, Fire^, Horizon > Offshoot > Electric Slide Avenue^ > Offshoot, Dawn A New Day*
Encore: The Liquid*, Ocean Flows
“The Electric Kool-Aid Asheville Test” NYE
^ First time played
* w/ Here Come The Mummies horns
 w/ AC (TAUK) on keys
 w/ NYE Countdown
 w/ Tauk
 w/ AC, Matt & Isaac (Tauk)
 All Along The Watchtower / Evil Woman mash-up
 w/ AC & Matt (Tauk), with “Rock and Roll” teases
 Electric Slide / Electric Avenue mash-up with “Bawitdaba” teases