Jam fans flock to Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, pictured at last year's Halloween show, performs Friday at The 8x10.
Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, pictured at last year's Halloween show, performs Friday at The 8x10. (Jordan August, Handout)

When the Bridge, the biggest band on Baltimore's jam scene, split up last Thanksgiving, live-music fans wondered who would fill the void.

A year later, they may have an answer: Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. The quartet of singer/guitarist Greg Ormont, guitarist/singer Jeremy Schon, bassist/singer Ben Carrey and drummer/singer Dan Schwartz has slowly built a large following through three monthlong residencies at the 8x10. Live, the band stretches out songs well past the 10-minute mark, and its members nimble musicianship and stage presence make for an entertaining show.

"They're the next up-and-coming band around here," said Abigail Janssens, who runs the club. "They're really out there."

Pigeons sold out the 2011 New Year's Eve show at the South Baltimore club and is playing a Halloween show there on Friday — complete with costume contests — for the second year in a row. The band has released a full-length album, oddly titled "Funk EP," and has another in the works.

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong isn't just a random string of words? There's a story behind it?

Ormont: Basically, I was with Jeremy, playing some acoustic gigs together. We were just a duo, getting started, goofing off, playing coffee shops. One day we were sitting in psychology class at the University of Maryland our freshman year, and I was zoning out a textbook.

If you've ever seen the movie "A Beautiful Mind," there's a part where [Russell Crowe's character] is staring at all of these numbers, and some of the numbers flash out at him in a pattern. No one believes me, but this totally happened: I was staring at my textbook, at a random page, and in the paragraph I was gazing at, the words "pigeons playing pingpong" totally flashed out at me with a gold light behind it.

I leaned over to Jeremy … and said, "Hey, man, this is our band name right here." He said, "Sure."

Were you later checked for schizophrenia?

Ormont: Yeah. [Laughs.] I didn't trust the therapist, so I didn't believe him when he said I was schizophrenic. Just kidding.

B.F. Skinner did teach pigeons to play pingpong, we later learned. I just saw it in the textbook, but through operant conditioning, he was able to teach pigeons to peck a ball back and forth. If you go to YouTube, ... the first thing when you type in "pigeons playing ping pong" is the B.F. Skinner Foundation's video of pigeons pecking a ball back and forth, and then a bunch of videos of us.

Greg, Jeremy and Ben, you guys are all roommates together in Federal Hill. So who's the mom, who's the dad and who is the crazy uncle?

Ormont: Jeremy's the mom. He nags. Dan is the dad. He gets it done. Ben and I are just kids, slowly, slowly growing up.

Schwartz: I will turn this car around.

You have a song named "Julia." Is that a new song?

Ormont: That's going to be on our upcoming album. We're working on that right now in the studio, almost got it finished up. It's actually about a girl named Julia. She exists.

Is she nice?

Ormont: She is nice enough to get a song about her.

You have a full-length album from a couple years ago, but it's called "Funk EP."

Schon: We decided to name it "Funk EP" even though it's not actually an EP, because we thought it was kind of funny. It's "Funk EP," like, "Funky Pigeons."

Ormont: We also have a song named "Funk E. Zekiel," so "Funk EP" just clicked. We don't take ourselves too seriously, so when we said it, we laughed, and there it is.

Carrey: You have to give us a break — we were in college at the time.

You guys have spent a lot of time on the road. Do you have a good tour story?

Ormont: Our first trip down to West Virginia was Ben's birthday weekend. We basically don't know anyone from Maryland to West Virginia, except for one person. Sure enough, our car broke down in Frostburg, four hours from our first shows in West Virginia, and we were stuck. The van was shot; it never made it back. That was it for the Suburban.

Fortunately, we did know one person from a previous tour. A friend of his picked us up and brought us to his house. We got his mom's minivan — a soccer mom minivan. He just gave it to us for the weekend. We loaned some gear from the bands we were playing with in West Virginia and had a tremendously fun weekend.

Carrey: To be fair, I did make him a collage with a bunch of ripped-up Pigeons stickers that I left in his car afterward. He got probably the better end of the deal.

If you go

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong performs Friday at the 8x10, 8-10 E. Cross St. DeltaNine and the Mantras also perform. 8 p.m. $10. Call 410-625-2000 or go to the8x10.com.