Filled with gratitude and anticipation, Pajamas wants to show their hometown some love.
The Ann Arbor rock-funk jam quartet of Graham Low (drums, vocals), Nick Orr (guitars, vocals), Dan Schuler (bass, vocals) and Owen Kellenberger (keys, vocals) eagerly awaits their first headlining show Friday at The Blind Pig in nearly two years.
“Since we do perform in Ann Arbor pretty regularly, this one is going to be a love letter to our friends and fans, something unique and special. We’ve put a lot of work into making this happen. It’s a chance to celebrate our town, our community and where we are now as a band,” Orr said.
“I think people have a lot to look forward to with this show. We’ve hired a professional lighting engineer to accompany the music with an incredible light show. The Blind Pig is an Ann Arbor institution, and we’ve all been attending and playing shows there for years.”
“We met Cactus Jack by putting a show together with them at the Tip Top Deluxe in Grand Rapids. It was our first time playing together, but I think we fit together really well musically,” Orr said.
“They’re really talented players with very good original songs. We got along really well and are happy that they were available to play with us again for this upcoming show. This show will be their Blind Pig debut, so it’s extra cool for that reason.”
Another extra “cool” reason to celebrate Pajamas’ Blind Pig return – new material to preview and experience from their forthcoming second studio album as well as some improvised covers.
“I’m really proud of the music that we’ve written for it, and I think it showcases how far we’ve come and where we’re currently at as a band,” said Orr, who previously released Onesie with the band in 2018. “It feels like we are hitting our songwriting stride, and more importantly, finding our own sound and voice. I think with this second full-length album we just know who we are and what we are about musically.”
Live at The Livery
In terms of their musical evolution, Pajamas continues to amass a growing catalog of studio and live releases, including 2021’s Live at The Livery. Recorded at The Livery in Benton Harbor on Nov. 13, 2021, the 13-track live album features a majestic array of unreleased tracks, an extended Beatles cover and past fan favorites.
“We’ve been trying to record more of our live shows lately and have stockpiled a bit of catalog of shows. We released Live at The Livery because we wanted to offer our listeners something more in-line with what they are familiar with when seeing us perform a show,” Orr said.
“Our first album, Onesie, was self-recorded back when we were a trio … before the addition of our keyboard player Owen Kellenberger. While our EP, You’re Awake, was recorded live, it felt right to release a live show recording covering a lot of our early catalog now featuring Owen’s addition to the songs and improvisation.”
On Live at The Livery, Pajamas provides a scintillating cover of The Beatles’ Revolver classic, “Eleanor Rigby,” which fuses sparkling keys, soft drums, placid bass and pensive electric guitar into a transformative 12-minute jam as they sing, “Ah, look at all the lonely people.”
“I think we landed on ‘Eleanor Rigby’ because it has such a strong melody and great potential for open-ended improvisation. We knew we could never capture the orchestral arrangement that The Beatles put out and decided to go in a different direction,” Orr said.
“We broke the song down to its roots and reharmonized and restructured it into something very different. It’s always a fun song to play, and we take it to very different places depending on the show. It definitely seems to be a crowd pleaser as we get requests to play it often.”
The band also receives increasing requests to play their new contemplative tracks, “Time & Place,” “Gemini,” “Where the Story Ends” and “Memento,” which comprise most of Live at The Livery’s second set. Low contributed “Time & Place” and “Memento” while Orr penned “Gemini” and “Where the Story Ends” during the 2020 pandemic lockdown.
“Playing a new song in rehearsal is always fun, but it’s hard to know how a song will land with an audience until you actually get out and perform it for them, see what works and what doesn’t, and sometimes rewrite or reassess aspects of the song,” Orr said.
“These four have mostly stayed true to their original conception and have been well-received by our listeners and fans. We’re really excited to release the studio versions of these songs … we’ve tried to approach them in a different way and incorporate layers and sounds that we may not be able to produce when playing them live.”
For Orr, the fluid “Gemini” offers an immersive, psychedelic escape from everyday troubles. Vivid electric guitars, haunting organ, crashing cymbals, pounding drums and serene bass seamlessly drift into the cosmos.
Pajamas sings, “Somewhere between night and day/As all the threads begin to fray/We lay beneath the starry sky/With no concerns for when or why/In this space, suspended out of time/Severed from the tether to our minds.”
“I know I’ve found myself feeling more isolated and anxious than ever before, as well as a sense of longing to get back to how things felt before we slipped into a pretty dark timeline. Everything just seems so fragile to me now,” Orr said.
“But even though times are tough, I feel really lucky to be alive to experience the people and things that I love. For those reasons, a lot of the music I’ve been writing lately does seem to deal with a sense of gratitude and appreciation for life, but also an exploration of those feelings of uncertainty and unease.”
The band also eases fears and anxieties on the tranquil closer, “Memento,” as soulful drums, shimmery cymbals, confident electric guitar, optimistic piano and spirited bass shift into a proggy, Latin groove.
They sing, “Don’t shy away/Hold out for what you wanted/Just embrace the slow decay/It never ends/Like a million crooked branches/Reaching out whence they came.”
“‘Memento’ is one of Graham’s new songs, and it has a really endearing and smooth beginning that leads into a heavy Latin-inspired jam where Owen gets to go crazy. All of these songs have been well-received since we debuted them, and they all get put into rotation pretty regularly,” Orr said.
“They each serve a different purpose in the night, but I think they all deliver a satisfying experience for people listening and dancing. Each time we perform (at The Livery), we definitely notice the crowd growing beyond our previous visits.”
In the Studio and Beyond
When they’re not on stage, Pajamas is busy recording their new tracks for a second studio album. They’re using a hybrid recording technique, which encompasses multi-tracking and capturing the drums live while playing in a room together.
“We’re all out in our rehearsal space with headphones on playing into a console. If you walked into the room, you would just hear the drums in isolation. It’s important to us that the music doesn’t feel too rigid or computerized,” said Orr, who’s self-producing the album with his bandmates.
“We want the music to breathe and have character along with some of the imperfections that make it human. That’s when the multi-tracking starts, and we re-record all the other instruments as we slowly build out the final recording. We want this album to have all the polish and flair of a really professional studio album, but with a live soul.”
In the coming months, the band will drop a series of new singles, including the country-blues jam, “Where the Story Ends,” before releasing the album later this year.
“We’re pushing ourselves to incorporate layers, sounds and effects that we simply can’t create in a live environment. In our hearts, we’re a live band, and we love to perform and play shows,” Orr said. “We’re looking at this as a chance to give our fans something they haven’t heard from us before.”
Outside of recording and releasing new material, Pajamas will continue their Thursday night residency at Mash’s two locations in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. They’ll also perform May 27 at the Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe, Illinois alongside Jesse Clayton, Biomassive, Mac Saturn and other Michigan artists.
“We love doing the Thursday thing out there now; it works so much better for what we are trying to do. Now, we play those shows with mostly original music and improvisation … lots of sonic exploration. As we start to shift our focus toward touring, these events will have played a huge role in getting us prepared to take a great show out on the road,” Orr said.
“This will be our first time performing at the Summer Camp Music Festival. We have a ton of pride in Ann Arbor and in Michigan, so it’s awesome to see so many of our friends and peers getting out there and doing so well.”
Friday, April 22 | Doors 8 p.m.
The Blind Pig, 208 S. First St. in Ann Arbor
Tickets: $10, ages 18+