We would zigzag through the boredom and pain
Occasionally glancing up through the rain
Wondering which of the buggers to blame
for pigs on the wing
— Pink Floyd, 1977
ALBANY — When Portland’s Oxcart uncorked Pink Floyd’s landmark “The Dark Side of the Moon” live in 2006, it was intended as a one-time thing. And for music that challenging and distinctive, once can be dangerous enough.
But once you’ve slaved over the Floyd and poured it masterfully from a stage, it’s in your blood — and your repertoire — forever.
“We kind of thought it’d be fun and interesting to do,” frontman/guitarist Jason Baker recalled. “We liked it so much that we thought, well, why not do some more? People enjoyed it, so we went from there.”
So was born Pigs on the Wing, Oxcart’s second skin. ’Twas a moniker drawn from the acoustic bookends on Pink Floyd’s 1977 “Animals” LP, a loose homage to George Orwell’s dystopian “Animal Farm,” but with a more satisfying denouement and way sweeter David Gilmour lead-guitar testimonials (see: “Dogs” at 3:41, 5:32 and 13:26). In the grand canon it’s a natural transition from the wistful “Wish You Were Here” (1975) into that epic, sprawling paean to paranoia, “The Wall” (1979).
The sows descend on Friday, Oct. 21, for an 8:30 p.m. performance at the Calapooia Brewing Co. Admission is $6. (They’ve kicked around on pieces of ground in our hometowns before, haunting Albany’s late, great Timber Carnival and Corvallis’ Majestic Theatre in July and September 2008, respectively.)
“We threw some names around,” Baker said, detailing the process that led to the band’s handle. “‘Crazy Diamonds’ came up as a possibility, but no, we might be mistaken for a Neil Diamond tribute band or something. We’re certainly not the only Floyd tribute out there (website “Pink Floyd: A Fleeting Glimpse” lists no less than 70 worldwide, some with references to tracks as semi-obscure as “The Gunner’s Dream” and “Alan’s Psychedelic Breakfast”; “Get Your Filthy Hands Off My Desert” appears to still be available), so we wanted to pick something that was unique to us. ‘Pigs on the Wing’ fit us, somehow. I’m not sure why.
“We really had an aversion to playing in a tribute band. When I heard that phrase, I thought of Elvis impersonators. But I liked the artistry in this, and it generates exposure for our own music.”
Released in May, Oxcart’s third album, “Beekeeper Constellation,” revels in a crunchier wilderness than the Floyd tended to explore — more speaker-throttle than cosmic drift. “Delusions” stomps with a giddy(up) force while “The Light’s” guitars chomp, claw and lie in wait. “Zenith” trumps ’em both, charging on a homicidal gallop encouraged by drummer Alex Feletar’s wham-bams at the gods. Vocally, Baker fuels his poetry with a hot-blooded gasp (heed the hungry flames of “Fire”) that’s a distant cry from Gilmour’s soothing tones and Roger Waters’ wounded yelp.
But the blueprint is present; this is, after all, a band whose members grew up with an admiration of and appreciation for their forefathers. Asked when he first became acquainted with Pink Floyd, Baker laughed. At 34, he’s of a generation that’s never known a world without them, and whose teen years coincided with their demise. (Waters had left in 1985, dismissing the group as a “spent force”; determined to prove him wrong, Gilmour revived Floyd sans Waters in 1987 and persevered until late 1994.)
“I should probably ask my parents about that,” Baker said. “In utero, maybe? They were always there. Growing up I was aware of them, and I formed my opinion of them when I got more serious about playing guitar. My active interest parallels learning to play an instrument.”
Like some of Floyd’s more ambitious work, there’s an overall concept on “Constellation,” as outlined in a brief description on Oxcart’s home page: “A young beekeeper finds himself thrust into the angry maw of an unforgiving war and returns a changed man, haunted by visions and ghosts of those he loves. Unable to reconnect, he takes solace only in the company of his bees and a vision of himself projected unto the stars.”
Sonically, the older group’s influence can be detected in Baker’s toothsome buzz-clutcher of a solo and Matt Jones’ Rick Wright-ish keyboard shoves on “Possum” and in the pleading peals of “Speakeasy,” as well as in the gathering storm that announces “Nationalism Anthem.” Their songs’ wingspans are equally massive, often linked seamlessly by instrumental or audio segues.
So it’s no stretch whatsoever to imagine that this lineup, which also features bassist Eric Welder and second guitarist David Lindenbaum, would feel right at home in the Pink Floyd catalog, with an emphasis on the group’s monumental ’70s output. (Additional members are recruited as needed; when Pigs performs “Dark Side” in its entirety, someone’s got to handle “The Great Gig in the Sky” and blow sax on “Us and Them.”)
“Obviously, there’s a lot of material, starting with the first album, with (original guitarist and creative center) Syd Barrett, ‘The Piper at the Gates of Dawn’ (1967),” Baker admitted. “A lot of people ask why we don’t focus on that. But the epicenter of our favorite Floyd music is from 1973 to 1979. I’ve heard David say that ‘Wish You Were Here’ is his favorite Floyd album. I like the songwriting in that era a lot, and the music was well put-together. ‘Echoes’ (from 1971’s ‘Meddle’), ‘Dark Side,’ ‘Wish You Were Here’ — that marks a period when they gel really well as a band.”
Despite the bad blood that developed over time, Pink Floyd’s chemistry was always potent, as they proved in July 2005, when the four principal members shocked the universe by shelving their beefs long enough to turn in a blistering set at the all-star Live 8 benefit in London. It was their first appearance as an intact quartet in nearly two-and-a-half decades.
“I had high hopes, and I was impressed,” Baker recalled of that emotional night. “I thought they sounded fantastic. Gilmour’s voice held up really well. I would have liked to have seen them again, but — ”
Sadly, it was not to be. Rick Wright died in 2008 (founding member Syd Barrett had passed in 2006, barely a year after his former cohorts’ Live 8 triumph), ending any delirious fantasies that the group would hit the road for the farewell tour/victory lap it deserved.
But perhaps that’s the purpose of bands like Pigs on the Wing: summoning, in a way, that power for closure, fans playing for fans, driving “Comfortably Numb’s” fireball solo — wrenched and wracked with pain, anger, frustration and love — deep, deep, deep into the heart, a shot at once as familiar and vital as life itself.
“I’ve always really liked David Gilmour’s style,” Baker said. “There’s something about the musicality of it that’s just perfect to me. That’s the reason I wanted to give this a try. Pigs on the Wing was also a chance for us to push ourselves musically. It would push us to be better musicians and to learn something from the masters.”
Yet even as they inhabit the flesh of another, they’re bringing something of themselves to performance.
“I feel that even Floyd in the ’70s wouldn’t have sounded entirely like their recordings,” Baker said. “They took liberties; they let it feel natural for them. That’s our take on it. We have our own style, as well as our own other influences. Instead of setting those aside, why not see what happens? We’re looking forward to it. It’s definitely going to be a good time.”