Psychedelic quartet Pigeons Playing Ping Pong kicked off their three-night Stop Making Cake Halloween run with a sold-out show at the House of Blues last night in Boston, Massachusetts. The Baltimore-based quartet known for bringing “end-of-the-world enthusiasm” to their style of psychedelic funk found themselves back in Boston for the first time in nearly a year and ready to deliver an outstanding Talking Heads and Cake-themed show. The city has become a quasi-second-home for members Greg Ormont (rhythm guitar/vocals), Jeremy Schon (lead guitar/vocals), Ben Carrey (bass/vocals), and Alex ‘Gator’ Petropulos (drums/electronics/vocals), who have sold out four of their last five appearances in the historic city.
As fans were ushered into the venue, Andy Frasco and the U.N. were ready to begin their opening set. They were certainly in the holiday spirit, choosing to dress up as some of the most famous professional wrestlers of all time. Randy Savage, Ultimate Warrior, Hulk Hogan, Sting, and Nacho Libre played an amazing set that included originals, covers, “dancing” lessons, and even a crowd surfing pillow fight. Following an opening segment that included Frasco’s original “Mature as Fuck”, and “Fool in the Rain”, a Led Zeppelin original off their 1979 release, In Through the Out Door, the five-piece busted out a cover of Nirvana’s “Breed”. After pulling a can of beer from his jock and assisting guitarist Shawn Eckels with his guitar solo, Frasco led the band into “Waiting Game”, where he was able to really highlight the bands playful attitude. Following a saxophone solo by Ernie, Andy found himself standing on top of his piano while giving the crowd a hilariously explicit “dancing” lesson.
Proceeding “It’s Been a Struggle”, a cover of the Boston staple “Cheers”, by Gary Portnoy and Judy Hart-Angelo, and a cover of “Two Tickets to Paradise” by Eddie Money, Gator found his way to the stage for what can only be described as a hippie wall of death. After splitting the crowd in Moses-like fashion, two air mattresses were placed atop the crowd, which allowed the fans to aid Frasco and Gator in a Boston vs. Los Angeles pillow fight. Fans then danced The Horah to The U.N.’s rendition of “Hava Nagila”, which led into “Who’s Making Love”, and finally a cover of “Killing in the Name” by Rage Against The Machine to close out the energetic set.
By 9:05 p.m., Pigeons was welcomed to the stage by over 2000 passionate fans who were ready to take flight. Donning bakers’ costumes as a play on their theme “Stop Making Cake”, the band opened with the ever blissful “High As Five” followed by “Somethin’ For Ya”, off of their 2017 Pizazz LP. The Shake n’ Bake horns joined in on a Talking Heads cover “This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)” and stayed on as the band flawlessly segued into the Pleasure track, “Kiwi”, which features some of Greg’s most poetic lyrics.
“Straight up I play with fire, a burning effigy of life
Light up your last desire, I fear we’re running out of time
And I try to realize that although things seem alright
There’s a line that must be crossed in order to see the light”
The segues continued as Pigeons transitioned into their first Cake cover of the night, “Short Skirt Long Jacket”. The Shake n’ Bake horns helped to add even more layers to an already deep “Whoopie” jam section before soaring into “Distant Times”, a song that debuted earlier this year at the State Theatre in Portland, Maine. Tucked in the middle of “Distant Times” was a take on Talking Heads’ “Girlfriend is Better”, where Ormont showed a dynamic ability to channel his inner David Byrne.
Before the first set could finish, Pigeons had one more surprise for the crowd. Guitarist Tomo Fujita made his way to the stage to sit in on “Couldn’t We All”, from the group’s first studio recording, Funk E P. Described by Ormont as “the funkmaster”, sit-ins from Tomo seem to have become a common occurrence whenever the band finds themselves in Massachusetts. The renowned Berklee professor first played with the band in Boston last year during their three-night run at Paradise Rock Club, and again this summer at Levitate Music and Arts Festival in Marshfield, Massachusetts. Each previous interaction had produced nothing short of magic and last night was no different. Jeremy and Tomo fed off of each other throughout the textured jam, trading solos and battling back and forth to create a wholly unique melodic venture. The room buzzed excitement as some were dancing uncontrollably, while others gazed upon the stage in awe at what they were witnessing.
After a short setbreak, the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to the fearless frontman Greg as the band prepared for a marathon second set. The room received “a fresh breath of life” with the song “Walk Outside” before Ormont instructed the band to get ready to “take it to the moon.” The rocket left the launch pad with the highly anticipated return of “J-Town”, accompanied once again by the Shake n’ Bake horns. This rendition of “J-Town” included a cover of Gloria Gaynor’s “I Will Survive”, which also appeared on Cake’s 1996 release, Fashion Nugget. This sandwich segued masterfully into a “Wild Wild Life” cover where Jeremy, Ben, and Gator all provided backing vocals. “Melting Lights” into “Offshoot” ensued, thrusting our journey to the moon into high gear.
The spacey instrumental “Offshoot” was driven by a thumping rhythm section provided by Ben and Gator, while Greg and Jeremy created an echoing cascade of melody. After an exploratory jam section, covers of Cake’s “Never There” and Talking Heads’ “Take Me to the River” helped to fill out the cohesive “Offshoot” sandwich. Pigeons took us for a ride with “Paperboy”, which originally debuted at the 10th Annual Domefest this past May at Marvin’s Mountaintop in Masonville, West Virginia and has quickly become a fan-favorite. It would be the last original song Pigeons played during their second set.
“Let Me Go” from Cake’s 1998 album, Prolonging the Magic, segued perfectly into “Psycho Killer”, a Talking Heads cover that Pigeons has played for many years. Containing a lengthy jam section supported by the Shake n’ Bake horns, this version of “Psycho Killer” was certainly among the best the band has ever played. As the set ended, fans cheered endlessly for an encore and before long they were greeted by Andy Frasco who began chanting “one more song.”
After another “Happy Birthday” singalong led by Frasco, Pigeons returned to the stage for a two-song encore. “Doc” was the first song played, a high energy track written about and named after a Baltimore local, followed by the Rob Gronkowski-inspired “Yo Soy Fiesta”, which features a salsa-like groove and highlights the band’s penchant for throwing a non-stop dance party each time they take the stage.
Demonstrating a flawless ability to interweave tasteful new covers of Talking Heads and Cake with their brand of pigeon funk, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong executed one of their most memorable shows to date. They look to compound upon their success as they play another sold out show tonight, Friday, November 1st at New York City’s PlayStation Theater, and tomorrow, Saturday, November 2nd at New Haven, CT’s College Street Music Hall.
Enjoy a gallery of photos from Thursday night’s show below courtesy of photographer Vic Brazen.
Head to Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s website for a full list of the band’s upcoming tour dates, ticketing, and more information.
Setlist: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong | House of Blues | Boston, MA | 10/31/19
Set One: High As Five, Somethin’ For Ya > This Must Be the Place (Naïve Melody)*^ > Kiwi > Short Skirt Long Jacket*!, Whoopie*, Distant Times > Girlfriend is Better*^ > Couldn’t We All#
Set Two: Walk Outside, J-Town* > I Will Survive*& > J-Town*, Wild Wild Life*^ > Melting Lights > Offshoot* > Never There*! > Take Me to the River*^ > Offshoot, Paper Boy, Let Me Go*! > Pyscho Killer*^
Encore: Doc, Yo Soy Fiesta
Notes: *w/Shake n’ Bake horns | ^Talking Heads | !Cake | #w/Tomo Fujita | &Gloria Gaynor