This sort of layman’s examination of a vast network of brilliantly talented musicians and an even wider community pool of fans who embrace the trappings of jam-fandom as a lifestyle is a well-tread subject. Look no further than the Analyze Phish podcast for a perfect, and hilarious, example of the dichotomy of someone who does and does not get it, man.
That said if you’re a festival fan in general, of which I identify, you’ll likely notice that every year a rising jam act has its moment seemingly ubiquitous on the summer circuit. 2018 looks to belong to the Baltimore-bred jam-funk group Pigeons Playing Ping Pong who last weekend further cemented their status with a sold-out, three-night run at a particular mecca, Brooklyn Bowl. I happened to catch night two with my good friend and jam-decoder, the Harris Wittels (R.I.P.) to my Scott Aukerman.
As far as my experience with this stuff goes, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong know exactly which buttons to push and when. Do they jam instrumentally hypnotically and long enough for me to be caught off guard when they all of a sudden launch back into the song they started five minutes ago? Check. Do they have cues in their music that only dedicated fans would know when to respond to or wave their hands, etc? Mmhmm. Do they have a name for their fans and is there some stage-banter service towards them? Flock yeah.
All of those bonafides withstanding, I had myself a pretty good time with the Pigeons crew. It happened to be May 4th, so PPPP delivered with not one but two different Star Wars related jams. Also, front-person Scrambled Greg Ormont brings a high level of the aforementioned weird that I certainly appreciate, making for an all-around loose and groovy atmosphere.
This is to say I have been to plenty of shows for larger artists in this sphere where the cult of personality and ingrained social mores really turn me off. PPPP, despite having played hundreds of shows already, are clearly having the time of their lives every time they get on stage and that energy can’t help but be infectious. Take it from a stodgy weiner like me!
Another aspect of jam music and something I’ve seen develop over the years, at least in terms of properly recognizing it, is the lighting designer functions almost as another band member. In this case, I stood next to the PPPP set-up for the entirety of their two sets and found that designer Manny Newman had a keyboard-style piece on his rig. He also received rock-star level recognition from fans in-between sets. You don’t really see that as much in any other genre of live music, and there’s no denying how much the lighting plays into the overall aesthetic of the show.
Overall, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong bring tight musicianship, a non-self indulgent approach and plenty of hooks for their “flock” and an accessibility for the layman. Long may they continue to get on their feet and do the funky Alfonzo.