It’s always nice when you can walk away from a full night of music re-energized and ready for more concerts. Friday was one of those nights at the NorVA located along Monticello Ave (just off Granby Street) in Norfolk, VA. As Greg Ormont told the the crowd during the show, it’s one of the bigger venues they’ve ever played. They certainly rose to the occasion.
For those who arrived for the opening Hubble Bash set were in for a fun treat. The group boasts trombone, rap, itM, and funk all into one sonic sound. This was especially great because this bill had a good variety. Sure we all enjoy going to see sometimes 4 bluegrass or reggae bands in a night, but sometimes variety is the spice of life. Such was the case. Electronic funk to kick off the night and get the dance floor moving with Hubble Bash, then a southern rock odyssey with The Trongone Band, followed by two full sets of jams from Pigeons Playing Ping Pong.
The Trongone Band is really on a path to give listeners honest and passionate rock n roll. A balance of song and jamming. The Trongone Band‘s “Dead as Funk” shows or any Dead covers they do are executed so well. But that’s not necessarily them trying to be a jamband. They are a band that jams, just like the Allman Brothers. Andrew Trongone’s fender clear telecaster tone swept over the venue with the opening song, “Anne Marie.” The backbone of the band is held down by his brother, Johnny, on drums as well as seasoned bassist Todd Herrington. Ben White reminded me that while I enjoy the musical and sonic possibilities that Synths provide (Thanks Moog), these are in no way necessary all the time. White is a studied jazz musician, shining on the ivories, and has recently picked up a new hammond. Being a good organ player is its own beast. White seems to have a really strong grasp of both organ and piano, creating a true and authentic sound that reminds us of the 60s and 70s. The highlight of their set was an “Amazing Grace” > “Ain’t It Funny” featuring Jeremy Schon of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong on guitar. “Ain’t It Funny” is definitely one of the best songs the band has written and they took the song to about the 9 minute mark on Friday night. Jeremy and Andrew ran through the song with their guitars unplugged before the set. What we saw was live improv in its finest form with the two firing licks back and forth.
I’m not going to lie, I’m no newcomer to “the flock”, the guys have been the buzz for years now in the DC/MD/VA area. However, it’d been a minute since I was served a heaping of jam from these guys.
The vibe is right with this band. There’s lots of bands with a fun scene but these guys seem to have that extra bit of special sauce that separates them from the flock (sorry too easy). Pigeons Playing Ping Pong has a flow of energetic jam funk that never stops the entire show, that is part of what has taken them to the next level. Who wouldn’t want to rock a late night Pigeons set at a festival? The night before, the band had rocked a set at Big Something‘s BIG WHAT festival.
To kick off the NorVA show they started with a classic “Funk E Zekiel” right into the fan singalong “Burning Up my Time.” A highlight of the set was definitely when the group welcomed up their friend, Gina Sobel, on flute for several tunes like “Lightning” into the Carl Douglas classic “Kung Fu Fighting” which was originally released in 1971. From there the band went back into “Lightning”. It was fun hearing a flutist accompany a jamband like Pigeons. Very glad the band thinks outside of the box in terms of sit-in collaborations. At first Gina got into the flow of the set, but as the night continued and she was given the full green light she really brought a cool element to Pigeon’s sound I’d not yet explored. The set ended with a crowd pleasing rendition of “Julia” > “Rugrats” > “Julia”. I think part of what draws folks to Pigeons is that they’ve got the backbone covered well on bass and drums. Jeremy leads direction with his guitar and, as a guitarist, I enjoy his style of leading ideas and then acting on them. Greg is a good front-man type figure if you will with his fun lyrics and his stellar on stage presence.
The second set was a very good continuation of the dance party that they’d already started with a strong first set. “Walk Outside” got things going. Set highlights from there included another sit-in from Gina on flute for “Couldn’t We All.” The combo of the night was likely “Couldn’t We All” > “Upfunk” > “Hyrule Castle” > “Upfunk Penguins” > “Funkijam” > “Bad For You”. It was just a non-stop funk train. It’s less about the setlist with Pigeons and more about the groove – the non-stop grooves you enjoy from the headiest of jambands (in a good way). The set ended with the appropriately titled “Fun in Funk” before a “Horizon” encore.
We got a great electronic funk sampling from Hubble Bash, a serving of gritty classic rock n roll from Richmond, and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong delivered one strong headlining set at the NorVA. In all, a night of success. Since Pigeons is already on your radar, give Hubble Bash a listen, and then go see The Trongone Band (they’re one of our favorite rising acts on the live music scene).
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong Setlist
July 22, 2016 @ The NorVA (Norfolk, VA) Funk E Zekiel, Burning Up My Time > Sunny Day Poseidon Lightning* > Kung Fu Fighting* > Lightning* Julia > Rugrats > Julia
Walk Outside Pop Off Couldn’t We All* > Upfunk > Hyrule Castle > Upfunk Penguins > Funkijam > Bad For You Fun In Funk E. Horizon
Notes: * w/Gina Sobel on flute