On March 11th, I drove down to Covington, KY to see Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at the Madison Theatre. The following day, March 12th, the music world stopped turning.

That was the single worst day of my now nearly one-year tenure at Live For Live Music, and it wasn’t just because of the hangover—though that certainly didn’t help. A lot has happened in the intervening seven months as not just concerts but the entire world at large adapts to the new post-COVID society. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong are one of the many public institutions to have been forced to confront these modern times, doing so in the form of a drive-in concert at Legend Valley in Thornville, OH on Saturday.

The cyclical feeling of seeing Pigeons—the final “real” concert I saw before the PPE curtain came down—on the Time To Drive-In Tour fall tour was overwhelming. First off, it was easily the furthest I had ever been from the Baltimore-bred bird band while they performed. Then, here I was at Legend Valley—the home of The Werk Out (and, formerly, of Resonance), a venue that was instrumental to my formative years in the live music scene—hardly recognizing this sterilized incarnation of my old stomping grounds.

But when the band took the stage, the lights came down, and they fired up “Havana”, it all came flooding back. Though Pigeons is certainly not regarded on the heavier side of the jam spectrum, the show unfolded in a particularly mellow direction as the band segued into “Julia”. Though unfinished, the feel-good singalong got the blood pumping out there on the cold Ohio night. Things kept rolling on with “White Night”, as the set continued with rather cursory jams as the sensation of live music was delivered via quick-hit fan-favorite tunes.

As guitarists Jeremy Schon and Greg Ormont rattled off the opening notes to “King Kong”, the tempo of the evening finally began to shift into second gear. However, it wasn’t long before that momentum snowballed into the onslaught of Black Sabbath‘s “War Pigs”, seemingly out of nowhere. Things had finally begun in earnest—nearly halfway through the first set—and the show was on.

After segueing back into “King Kong” to complete the sandwich, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong cooled off for a spell with “Lowdown”. The fairly recent composition, debuted November 17th, 2019 at a VIPPPP show at Denver’s Globe Hall, is built around a melodic riff from Schon that is faintly reminiscent of the opening from Dopapod‘s “French Bowling”. Though the song, much like Pigeons, is diametrically dissimilar to Dopapod, the poppy tune is a welcome first set addition to Pigeon’s continuously-growing arsenal.

After a roaring “Kiwi” that reverberated through the Valley, at long last the first big jam vehicle of the Time To Drive-In show came with a fitting “Time To Ride”. Emerging as the initial highlight of the evening, the reliable mode of transportation into improvisation served up exactly what the jam-hungry audiences were starving for after a slew of brief—though beloved—staples. Then, to top off the feat, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong brought “Julia” back around from earlier to finish that last verse and close the first set.

One of the most convenient things about drive-in concerts, though this may go without saying, is the luxury of having your car right there. As temperatures dipped just below 50 degrees in central-Ohio, it was refreshing to get back in the car, crank up the heat, and blast Sum 41‘s All Killer No Filler for a setbreak recharge.

As the band returned for set two, it was immediately clear that the “Time To Ride” from set one was merely a warning shot fired across the audience’s bow as Pigeons queued up “Henrietta” for yet another sonic exploration. After a thorough telling, the band dropped straight into the instrumental “Weightless” that served for a downtempo improv session, reminded the crowd that the band was in no rush and there was still plenty of game to be played.

Before long, “Weightless” gave way to the stomper “Fade Fast” which teed up another driving jam that took a brief detour through the theme from Knight Rider. Though many millennial audience members may not have recognized the score from the 1980’s David Hasselhoff-led TV drama, the song was a fitting cover for Pigeons Playing Car Songs.

After segueing back into “Fade Fast” for one more run through the swan dive of a chorus, the band dipped into another instrumental with “Avalanche”. The tune, featured on PPPP’s most recent album, Presto, was one of the last big feats of the evening as the band drove home the roaring track as the clock began to wind down. Up next came Scrambled Greg‘s ode to hydration, “Water”, for a refreshing quick hit.

Fulfilling many fan’s requests—and supplying a must-have for any great Pigeons show—came the always-reliable “Poseidon”. One of the band’s quintessential songs, it came as the last notable jam of the evening and was reminiscent of many Pigeons shows throughout the years, some of which may have even occurred at Legend Valley under more felicitous circumstances.

With time for one more before the break, Pigeons went with “Snake Eyes”. Coming in after “Poseidon”, the tune had some big shoes to fill but served the purpose of giving the crowd every moment of music before everyone—band and audience alike—returned to the dystopian reality of 2020. A simple encore “Doc” added passionate punctuation to a rejuvenating and inspiring evening.

Though this was certainly no ordinary Pigeons Playing Ping Pong show—nor a typical trip to Legend Valley—the success of the evening put on display the perseverance of the band, the fans, the venue promoters and organizers, and the live music scene in its entirety. Pigeons, in a rare sight for this day and age, is out on the road every weekend in October as the Time To Drive-In fall tour rolls East through Connecticut, Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Virginia. For tickets and tour dates, head to their website.

Scroll down to check out a gallery of images from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong at Legend Valley on October 3rd, courtesy of photographer Adam Berta.

Setlist: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong | Legend Valley | Thornville, OH | 10/3/20

Set One: Havana > Julia > White Night, King Kong > War Pigs > King Kong, Lowdown, Kiwi > Time To Ride^ > Julia

Set Two: Henrietta, Weightless > Fade Fast > Knight Rider Theme > Fade Fast, Avalanche, Water, Poseidon, Snake Eyes

Encore: Doc

^ Unfinished