The world of jam bands always has something different to offer with every show. There are fans of all different walks of life, rapidly rotating setlists from the touring acts, and a truly unique experience with each show attended. When Maryland-bred Pigeons Playing Ping Pong traveled to Austin for the single-night 2-set show, their talent and energy were showcased in ways that blew all of my expectations out of the water. Don't let the band's comedic name fool you. Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is a band that knows how to excite and feed off a crowd in the most infectious ways, and this show was no exception.
When I arrived at Austin music staple Emo's, I didn't know what to expect. I flew solo for this show, so I went in to see a good show and possibly make some new friends along the way. I had an extra ticket for a friend that couldn't make it, and I "miracled" the stub to a fellow fan on the band's Facebook fan group. The fan said he was sitting at home when he saw my post, and he quickly sprang off of his couch to attend the show. The name of the game in the jam music scene is dedication and word of mouth, and fans create traditions of traveling to shows and going out of their way to see their favorite acts to perform at all costs.
I'm a huge fan of many jam acts, but I hadn't given Pigeons a chance until they came to Austin on this early March night. When I got through security and showed my ticket, I caught the tail end of the opening act, Karina Rykman. Rykman is a powerhouse bass player who took the mission of opening up for such a theatrical jam act seriously, and from what I saw of her performance set the stage for what was to come for the two sets of pure joy that the Maryland jam band was about to deliver to the beyond-enthusiastic audience.
When the band took the stage at 9:30 sharp, the band came on with all smiles on their faces, and the room's energy began to skyrocket. When the show began, Electrifying frontman "Scrambled" Greg Ormont introduced himself and the band to the crowd as they started arming themselves with their instruments. It became quickly apparent that this audience and I were in for a special treat. The band opened with their incendiary track Skinner, which set an explosive psychedelic tone for that was to come for the marathon performance. Debuted at the jam-centric Peach Festival, this opening number scratched the surface for what was to come. The light show for this gig was phenomenal, with each jam getting its overall feel solidified by the stage's mesmerizing strobe-infested presence. With each song in the setlist containing its own unique jam, the crowd was illuminated by every note played by the band. Each note the band played felt like a dance, and their enthusiasm showed through to the audience so naturally. The band's lead guitarist Jeremy Schon effortlessly shredded his way through each song, with every tune in the band's set seemingly building on the last.
The first set consisted of several distinct jammed-out sections, including an epic cover of The Beatles' classic Where My Guitar Gently Weeps, perhaps the highlight of the first set. The tune that followed it was Pigeons fan-favorite Fox and Toad, whose chorus had the whole audience singing along with the band as the song has the entire ensemble singing together in harmony. On top of all of this, there were several vibrant members of the audience I had the pleasure of hanging with, one of them being a keeper of a hand fan that the audience member used to cool off the audience in the packed crowd throughout the show.
When the band left the stage for the intermission, I decided to explore the venue, and I found a group of friends who said that they had seen the band play over ten times and frequently traveled to see various jam bands. The most exciting thing about this scene is how dedicated, and passionate everyone seems to be. If someone's favorite band is playing in rural Maine, that's just an opportunity for a new adventure. The band also announced on stage that they would be playing six sets as the headliner at the band’s own annual "Dome Fest," a weekend-long shindig that will consist of a plethora of bands to entertain a backwoods Ohio crowd for an entire weekend. After this show, I might have to make the trip.
When the band returned for the 2nd set, the crowd was ready for a fiery finish. The band quickly got to work with Pigeons classics Day In Time and Poseidon, both of which got the crowd all collectively dancing their hearts out, with Scrambled Greg along the rest of the band making eye contact with the crowd as each extended jam section came into their explosive climaxes. The band seemed to be firing on all cylinders for this show, as each member got their time in the spotlight with drum solos, bass solos, and guitar solos showing their explosive chops in the compellingly eruptive developments throughout the nearly 3-hour show.
When the band's second set came to an end, the crowd was chanting louder than the music that night for an encore. When the band appeared once more for one more tune, the fans in attendance were visibly moved by what they had just witnessed. The funk-driven encore came in the form of Ocean Flows, a track that had the whole crowd dancing the night away as the band jammed the song into near exhaustion. When the band left the stage for the last time, I was in awe. I desperately want to see this band again, maybe even a dozen more times. As a fan of the jam band culture, this concert scene in Austin on Saturday night represented everything I have come to adore about it, from the avid fans to the spectacular showmanship. I hope I can get the privilege of seeing Pigeons grace the stage again, even if it means traveling halfway across the nation.