Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is not only a mouthful to say, but the band also leaves you unable to shut up after experiencing one of its wild and theatrical shows. The four-piece group from Baltimore is sweeping across the United States on its tour supporting its latest release, Presto, bringing along energetic music and, much to fans’ pleasure, pigeon mascots.
In an interview with The Daily Californian, lead singer Greg Ormont described the group’s musical style as “high-energy psychedelic funk.”
“I liken it to a combination of old-school Red Hot Chili Peppers,” Ormont said. “Their rock and funky energy mixed with some of the quirkiness and solid songwriting of the Talking Heads.” He also referenced the band drawing influence from jam bands such as Phish and funk legends such as George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic. He added, “We like to work in a lot of instrumental grooves and then high-energy peaking vocals.”
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s genre of music hasn’t changed much from its previous albums. Ormont asserted that the group has worked on writing better and more concise songs, tapping into a more mature level of music while still maintaining its fun-loving and free-spirited mission to spread positivity. Ormont believes that, because of new drummer Alex “Gator” Petropulos, Presto is a showcase of the band’s ability to produce the mature style it has long strived for.
“I think our differences from our previous albums to Pizazz was really strong, just in the tightness and power of the drumming,” Ormont said. “It’s kind of like a well-oiled machine at this point — I think you can hear that on Presto.”
And while Ormont yearns for studio sessions that allow the same improvisation as live shows, he hopes that the band will eventually put out another live album in the vein of other renowned jam bands. The group, however, already has a lot on its plate. Working to make each show memorable while juggling projects such as the music festival Domefest, the band simply doesn’t have the time to select the best songs for a live album. While Ormont hinted that one may be in the works, the group is still fine-tuning the process.
“We work so much on new material,” Ormont said, “making each show unique and exciting, keeping our fans on their toes, that it’s sometimes hard to go back into the archive and relisten to old shows and pick out jams.”
As for Presto, Ormont said the album is a long time in the making. “What’s cool about Presto is we actually played all of the songs to live crowds before recording it,” Ormont said. “That allows us to get feedback from our fans directly on how they react to different sections, different parts, and it actually informs us in the final songwriting process.” If there’s a lull in the dancing or in the crowd’s energy, the group knows to amp up or tone down extended sections if the crowd seems to be getting bored.
He likened the process to a choose-your-own-adventure book. “We try to catch the lightning that we get from the show and shove it into a bottle and cork it and have it kind of explode in the studio,” Ormont explained.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s fan base, appropriately deemed “the Flock,” is the primary driving force behind the group’s successes and also the reason the band puts on the extravagant shows that it does. The group loves throwing curveballs at its fans, hoping to catch the audience off-guard and keep things fresh and exciting. If there’s a lull in the dancing or in the crowd’s energy, the group knows to amp things up, or similarly to tone down extended sections if the crowd seems to be getting bored.
“I know there’s some people on tour for the next 13 shows,” Ormont said, “so that inspires us to make sure every set is completely different and (to) make sure we have old bust-outs and new material at every turn, bringing out guests when we can … to keep each show exciting.”
Ormont also touched upon playing shows in the age of modern technology, detailing how fans are constantly filming the band’s live performances. He stressed that this makes the group want to always be on top of its game — you never know who could be watching online.
It’s clear that Pigeons Playing Ping Pong prides itself on making each show different — an admirable quality. But the group knows its limits. “We like to stay realistic and hopefully we play better shows,” Ormont said. “Whether or not they’re bigger, we want the quality to continue to rise.”
The band is playing two shows back to back in San Francisco at the Great American Music Hall and at the Regency Ballroom. “I’m very appreciative of the way that San Francisco has taken us in and treated us like family,” Ormont said, “and we’re going to reciprocate with some of the biggest throwdowns of the year.”
Pooja Bale covers music. Contact her at [email protected].