Pigeons Playing Ping Pong's Greg Ormont Talks "New Year's stEVE," & The Histor
Ain’t no party like a New Year’s party! Earlier this month, psychedelic-funk band Pigeons Playing Ping Pong announced their 2018 New Year’s Eve theme, “New Year’s stEve”. The Flock is in for an epic night of music honoring the various different “Steve” musicians throughout history, especially the iconic Stevie Wonder.
“This year, we decided to explore the various Steves in music history with a focus on Stevie Wonder, who is one of my biggest influences,” frontman Greg Ormont says. “I didn’t listen to a ton of funk growing up, but I remember my parents playing his album Innervisions at a young age and was instantly hooked by his voice. His music is legendary and our options are endless, but this year’s theme isn’t only about Stevie. Any Steve musicians are up for grabs… even the Blue’s Clues theme song is on the table.”
New Year’s Eve is one of the most highly anticipated days of the year, making the energetically-charged 24-hour window one of the most exciting times to see a band play. However, for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, dedicating a theme for a New Year’s Eve show is nothing new—they’ve been doing so since 2011.
“Special occasions call for special measures,” explains Ormont. “We spend a good amount of time brainstorming theme names and ideas as a group and individually. Once we come up with a killer name that we all love, like ‘New Year’s stEve,’ we’re off to the races. We compile a list of all the material that we think fits the theme and begin learning songs as soon as possible to see what we can pull off as a group. The preparation is always challenging, but we love putting ourselves outside our comfort zone and learning from such gifted songwriters.”
Back in 2011, the Pigeons played their first New Year’s Eve theme, “Speakeasy NYE,” in their hometown of Baltimore at The 8×10–bringing in a flock of fans dressed as gangsters and flappers while the band wore hot pink zoot suits and fedoras. There was “plenty of bathtub gin” on site for everyone to sip, and the band even played a musical countdown to midnight.
“We wanted to do something special for our first New Year’s Eve countdown,” Ormont reminisces. “So instead of stopping right before midnight and simply counting down with the World Clock, we orchestrated an intense jam in our original song ‘Moonwalk’ that included musical teases and a vocal countdown that matched the beat of the song and peaked exactly as the clock struck midnight in real time. It takes a lot of practice, but we love starting each year on the other side of a fun challenge.”
The following year, after playing a Phish after party in New York City on December 28th, the band ended 2012 with a “Motown Getdown NYE” back at Baltimore’s The 8×10, ringing in 2013 with two high-octane sets that explored the sensibilities of vintage funk music.
“When preparing for our themed shows, it’s like taking a crash course in musical eras,” says Ormont. “We immerse ourselves in the material and hopefully become better songwriters in the process. While we were learning the Motown material, we noticed a lot of similar songwriting techniques within different songs and started to arrange musical mashups, or combinations of songs, which is something we’ve done since our earliest days and continue to do today.”
He continues about the transformation of the Pigeons’ tradition, “That year, we combined the song ‘Superstition’ with ‘Shining Star’ and called it ‘SuperStar’. There was another fun segment that we called ‘Respect The House’, which was a combination of Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ mashed with the Talking Heads’ ‘Burning Down the House’ mashed with Hot Chocolate’s ‘You Sexy Thing (I Believe in Miracles)’ mashed with The Temptations’ ‘My Girl’.”
“It’s a fun way to put our fresh spin on vintage material,” Ormont—also known as “Scrambled Greg”—concludes, “and it keeps the crowd on their toes. You never know which way a song will go at a themed show.”
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong ended 2013 with fierce intention, playing the Main Pub in Manchester, Connecticut on December 27th; Best Buy Theatre with the Disco Biscuits on December 28th; and a Phish late-night at Lucille’s at B.B. Kings Blues Club with Dopapod and Kung Fu on December 29th before they headed back to Baltimore to ring in 2014. Their 2013 “NSFW NYE” brought erotically-dressed Flockers to The 8×10 to enjoy two sets of “straight porno funk” featuring satisfying covers of “Sex Machine”, “Sexual Eruption”, “Dick In A Box”, “The Bad Touch”, and oh so much more. Electric Love Machine, TAUK, and DigitalDavy kept the music going until 6 AM for an arousing evening of music that was definitely “Not Safe For Work.”
Having notched 157 shows in 2014, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong changed up their usual New Year’s Eve plans by playing out-of-state gig at The Broadberry in Richmond, Virginia. To help ring in 2015, the band put together an “Alice in ONE HIT WONDERland” theme, celebrating those lucky bands that made it big with their one-hit wonder. Instant classics like “Tubthumping”, “Groove is in the Heart”, “Lovefool”, “Blue”, “Barbara Streisand”, and “Closing Time” were some of the highlights from the band’s final setlist of 2014. The Shack Band joined Pigeons onstage for their’ annual musical countdown to midnight for an uplifting rendition of “Also Sprach Zarathustra”—also known as the theme from 2001: A Space Odyssey—while special guest Mall Chick spun some tunes for late night.
“We like to choose themes that are super exciting for The Flock, yet open-ended enough to make it difficult to predict the setlists,” explains Ormont. “Our theme ‘Alice In ONE HIT WONDERland’ was perfect for that since there are so many classic one-hit wonders to choose from, but what songs we actually play is always up to the band, and most of them end up being debuts for us. And while we may not play full covers or mashups of everything you’re expecting, there’s always the chance of your songs getting tossed into solos or jams. So when we’re jamming during New Year’s stEve, keep a close ear because you never know what kind of teases might be dropped into the mix.”
Nailing down big Halloween themes seemed to be the focus for the band in 2015 (“Dead Zeppelin”) and 2016 (“Brought To You By The Letter P”), so New Year’s Eve was celebrated with a more traditional Pigeons show at Asheville’s New Mountain with The Mantras in 2015 and a gig opening for Lotus at Pittsburgh’s Stage AE in 2016.
For New Year’s Eve 2017, the band made waves with their out-of-the-box New Year’s Eve theme, “DisNYE: A Whole New Year.” The Cleveland flock got the gift of a two-night stand at the Beachland Ballroom and Tavern leading up to 31st before the band hit Covington, Kentucky’s Madison Theater for a sold-out night of psychedelic Disney jams on New Year’s Eve proper. Dressed in matching Mickey Mouse attire, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong delivered debuts ranged from classics like “When You Wish Upon A Star” to sing-alongs like “Hakuna Matata”, and even more modern tunes like “Shiny” from Disney’s recent triumph, Moana.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong - "Horizon DisNYE" - 12/31/2017
From playing their first shows at Red Rocks Amphitheater and Madison Square Garden to meeting John Mayer and Bob Weir at LOCKN‘, this has been a crazy year for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. The band will kick off their 2018 New Year’s Eve run with a two-night run at The Basement East in Nashville, Tennessee alongside Midnight North on December 27th and the Magic Beans on December 28th. From there, they’ll head back to the Madison Theater on December 29th before ringing in 2019 with their highly anticipated “New Year’s stEve” blowout Stage AE in Pittsburgh on December 31st.
You can get your tickets for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong’s New Year’s Eve show here.
*Featured photo: Phierce Photo by Keith G; from "DisNYE"- themed 2017 New Year's Eve show *New Year's Eve photo by Kindones Photography
*Video by Pigeons Playing Ping Pong
*New Year's "stEVE" graphic
*Live for Live Music article