The first night of Bonnaroo 2018 closed in outrageous psychedelic-rock fashion courtesy of the Baltimore group Pigeons Playing Ping Pong in a late-night jam at the festival’s That Tent.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong is a four-piece group with a live presentation as eccentric as their band name. The group’s frontman, Greg Ormont, contains an energetic persona that supports his bandmates as they riff on against the backdrop of his liveliness.
If newer fans had an idea of what sort of live show the band would provide, Pigeons’ after-dark Bonnaroo production assuredly exceeded any expectations.
With the group’s opening number, “Porcupine,” it became immediately apparent that those in attendance were in for a spectacle. As the song led into a laid-back funk groove, a wide, almost-sinister grin spread across Ormont’s face. The track eventually devolved into an extended guitar solo from Jeremy Schon, who plucked out each groovy phrase with seemingly effortless precision.
This approach to each song carried through the band’s setlist. Ormont would open a track with his soulful, charismatic tenor, then pass the torch to Schon for a solo. At one point, the band kneeled on the side of the stage during a shared solo from bassist Ben Carrey and drummer Alex Petropulos, who just as easily impressed the audience.
Along with a collection of tracks spanning the Pigeons’ three albums, the group also eagerly played a couple of cover songs, including “1999” by Prince and “Under the Sea” from “The Little Mermaid” soundtrack. They made sure to put their own funky twist on each.
Midway through the set, they introduced two members of The Revivalists—another band playing at Bonnaroo—to join them on stage as a horn section.
“Super-nice guys,” Ormont said about the guest musicians. “We just threw it together, and they killed it.”
As the band closed their set in flamboyant fashion with “Ocean Flows,” they hit the last note to a burst of cheers from the tent’s crowd, an audience most likely filled with new Pigeons followers.
“Welcome,” Ormont said, “to the flock everybody.”