Three Interesting Maps for Music Lovers

These have been going around the internets this week, independently of each other. The first needed some explaining and qualifying so the guy who created it released a more accurate version. Then the third one is just hilarious.

1. Artists that Get More Streaming Listens In A Given State Than They Do in the Rest of the US

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This map, created by music tech company Echo Nest was originally billed as “Map of Every State’s Favorite Band.” I think many reader’s balked at this – Kurt Vile in Oregon? Really? – and so they issued another map:

Most Played Artists By State (by number of streaming listens):

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The first one compares the how well an artist ranks within one state with how that artist ranks in the whole US, based on number of streaming listens. The greater the disparity between statewide listens and nationwide listens, the more distinctive the artist is. The highest differential  between state rank and US rank by artist wins the position of “most distinctive” and gets a spot on the map.

So when you look at 250,000 listeners’ streaming data from Pandora, Spotify, and some others, Ginger Kwan for example ranks 33rd in number of listens while nationwide Ginger Kwan is ranked 12,062nd, for a huge differential of 12,029 positions. This reveals something interesting about Alaskan musical tastes.  (Maybe Ginger Kwan is from Alaska? Maybe her music is just especially comforting to a dark, cold, snowy tundra-ensconced population?) More people are listening to Ginger Kwan in Alaska than anywhere else in the country.

Similarly, in my home state of Texas, George Strait is the 16th highest listened-to artist on streaming services, but nationwide he’s the 199th, for a differential of -183.

So it would be easy to say “George Strait is the Most Popular Artist in Texas” but that’s where the confusion lies, and where the need for the second map arises. The second map is just purely “top streaming listens per state.” What artist gets the most streaming listens in Oregon? Apparently it’s Daft Punk. Based on how often “Get Lucky” was pounded into my brain by the at-work radio station chosen by The Man, I guess I’m not surprised.

But neither Spin or the Washington Post explained these maps and their methodology as well as Paul Lamere, the one who created them. (When in doubt, go to the source). It is interesting to see how it’s easy to lie or miscommunicate with statistics. It’s also interesting that popular music in America is basically funneled down to include almost exclusively hip-hop, and then some other 2013 summer pop smash artists (Lorde and Daft Punk). Additionally, it’s interesting to consider the different user formats across the streaming services. With Spotify, the stats come easy since it’s an on-demand service. But Pandora users in Alaska may end up listening to Ginger Kwan often, if maybe they’re selecting the Norah Jones station. So that example for one may describe more of Alaskans genre preferences than just unabashed love for Ginger Kwan.

And then finally, there’s this, from the Twitter of sir broosk, which shows a simple truth, universally acknowledged:

Map of Every State’s Least Favorite Band:

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It’s so right on, and then there’s the hidden jab against Florida. Much as I enjoy a few people I’ve known from Florida, I wouldn’t mistake any of them for die hard fans of U2. So it goes.

Weekend ahoy!

Classic Rock Arena Show Bucket List

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If I had unlimited time and money, was single, didn’t have a job, etc etc etc I would go to a lot more shows. I have a running list of up and coming indie or otherwise bands that I plan to see this year or in the next couple of years (Dr. Dog, St Vincent, Lake Street Drive, Nickel Creek, the Thermals). When I do have money, these are the acts I tend to prioritize for fear of missing out and wanting to live in the now.

The list below is a little different. These are the ones that I I kind of stopped caring so much about once I fell in love with more current music. But it’s really these that laid the foundation for me way back when. Even though I don’t regularly listen to them very often, I’ve realized that it really might be worth it to save up and see them. 

So has anyone seen any of these acts? Help me prioritize. I’ve heard Springsteen is one not to miss. I’m curious about the others. None could top Spinal Tap live and in concert, but a few might come close.

Van Halen

ZZ Top

Bob Seger

Springsteen

Pearl Jam 

Bob Dylan 

Page and Plant/Zeppelin Reunion

Elton John 

The Rolling Stones 

The Who 

Rush 

 

 

Live Review: Ahmad Jamal at the Newmark Theater

Live Review: Ahmad Jamal at the Newmark Theater

My friend Jared treated me and my wife to tickets for jazz legend Ahmad Jamal and his quartet this past Friday night. Jared snapped this photo from our balcony seats at Portland’s incredible Newmark Theater (only 62 feet from the stage no matter where you sit).

The whole experience was kind of otherworldly for me. Though I’d been to one other jazz affair in Portland I had never set foot in the venerable Newmark, and the last two shows I saw in Portland were at the Doug Fir – a much more comfortable atmosphere for my late 20-something indie-music-loving self.

The first thing I noticed when I walked into the lobby – no one was wearing jeans. That’s pretty rare for a Portland Friday night. Outside of a suit that is literally collecting dust at the bottom of my closet, I don’t even own a pair of slacks or khakis anymore. I just never have occasion to wear them and the laid back Portland vibe never requires it. (Almost never!)

So right away I knew I was a little outclassed. And as we took our seats in the theater I knew that the atmosphere had been pretty much pitch perfect for the caliber of music I was experiencing.

For the first couple of numbers I was just getting settled in – it was mellow, piano-led jazz, no sax or trumpet, and all in all it was pretty benign. Neither offensive nor terribly exciting. Even so it was really interesting just to realize that I’m witnessing the patriarch of jazz music – the one who Miles Davis said he owes everything to – and I’m sitting not 60 feet from him. The amount of life in his bones, and all of that life experience flowing from his fingertips to the keys, transmuted into beautiful improvised plinks, scales, and cadenzas, was a lot to consider.

Soon came the two highlights of the show for me – a song written after a trip to Lebanon whose name I could not decipher, and the famous “Saturday Morning.” The first was a sprawling adventure that really transported me to a different consciousness. I was there, sitting in that darkened theater listening intently, but I was also somewhere else. Somewhere Arab, hot, swarthy. My wife would later say “Man, that Lebanon song took me right back to the grand market in Togo.” Apparently I wasn’t the only one so captivated by this tune.

It started with a vocal warble by the auxiliary man – very much like the Muslim call to prayer – and then meandered through a synesthetic journey. I heard busy, chaotic and dusty streets in the asymmetrical patterns of the drums, street performers trying to make a dime in the high accents of the warm congas, and a riverside of peace and calm amid the bustling chaos in the continuous piano line. I didn’t want it to end, and for about 12 minutes it didn’t.

Then came “Saturday Morning,” definitely the most relatable and gripping piece of the relatively short set. (The show started promptly at 7:00 and we walked out at 8:35). The number really did feel like a easy-going weekend morning, a breakfast on the veranda, a no-plans, no-cares, no-drama lifestyle. It’s amazing how music can communicate so much, even without words.

The one slightly distracting part of the performance was the auxiliary percussionist who was continually rubbing his hands, removing and adding his jacket, sweating profusely, wiping it with whatever was around, popping and unpopping his collar. At one point he actually took his mic in the middle of a tune and said “Someone turn up [off?] the heater!” The whole band stopped and looked at him. Ahmad shook his head then brought the song back again. It was weird enough that it didn’t seem planned, but the other players continued on as if it was just another flourish, another improvisation in the musical journey.

The Newmark’s acoustics are so impressive that every tiny sound being produced on stage could be heard unmistakably – soft hand slaps on the body of the bass, gentle hand taps on the rim of a bongo, the spontaneous “yeah yeah yeah”utterances of a drummer caught up in the moment, and yes, the sandpaper rubbings of a presumably drug-addled auxiliary man.

But the thread that held everything together and made this truly a gestalt experience was Ahmad Jamal himself. His gentle, distinctive approach to the keys, his small frame and perfect posture, his shoulders dipping and shifting with the rhythms, his intermittent decisions to stand up from the piano and just watch a solo – his revelry was our revelry. In some ways it felt like what it might be like to see Ray Charles perform today: a poised, confident, genius carrying the weight of having lived eight generations on this Earth but doing so with grace and ease. Whatever difficulties the man has encountered, he has successfully processed it all through his intuitive fingertips and forged a delicate yet permanent musical etching on the consciousness of millions.

And now, I’m one of the millions. Thank you, Ahmad Jamal, for all your contributions to this music, and for one unforgettable evening in the city.

Local Spotlight: Music Fest NW Booking Predictions

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I’m excited about Portland’s MusicFestNW this year. I have known about it for a few years, and last year was the first chance I really had to be able to go. It didn’t work out, and that was fine. The only band I would have really paid to see is the Thermals, and as for the headliners, afterward I heard that the setup at Pioneer Square wasn’t super great. (It might have been a good place to see Neko Case or Head and the Heart though, notwithstanding the sound issues and resident complaints about noise.)

This year instead of it being spread out across every venue in the city for 4-5 days, they’re moving it to the Waterfront park, with a two-day format and nine bands for each day. “No overlap” says the executive director of the Fest (http://www.portlandmercury.com/portland/musicfestnw-this-years-model/Content?oid=11778951).

I think it’s a good move – no capacity problems, open air, more of an expansive urban festival vibe instead of the cramped, crowded and sweaty SXSW thing. (Not that going to SXSW one day isn’t on my bucket list, because it totally is).

Based on the last couple of years’ billing trend of booking current, indie, PNW local, and major artists that are releasing or released highly buzzed-about albums this year or last year, here’s a list of the bands I wouldn’t be surprised to see on the list. Any other predictions? I left three spots open on my list. The anticipation is already building!

Bands I think might be at Music Fest NW this year:

Arcade Fire, Chvrches, Beck, Haim, Dr. Dog, the 1975. Against Me!, the Thermals, St Vincent, Broken Bells,  Vampire Weekend, Damien Jurado, Radiation City, Wampire, Kacey Musgraves.

Nickle Creek is Back on Tour

Photo Credit: Nonesuch Records

And I managed to get a ticket! It’s exciting. My wife and I have been watching for a week or so as their newly released East Coast and South tour dates sell out in minutes. The pre-sale for Portland sold out in about an hour this morning (luckily I was a hot hand at the mouse-click right at 10:00), and I imagine the public tickets will go the same way.  Three virtuosos on the same stage? It’s gonna be epic. Get ’em while their hot. Just don’t get snowed by the price gouging resellers.

http://nickelcreek.com/

http://www.crystalballroompdx.com/events/123606-Nickel-Creek

U2 and Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show Premiere

The whole show was wonderful for all the music and humor it entailed – Will Smith getting a vintage “Smiths” shirt but with his family’s faces instead of Morrisey’s, and U2’s performance on top of the 30 Rock center surrounded by the NYC skyline – but the highlight for me was the acoustic version of “Ordinary Love” that Bono and the Edge threw down.

First came a hilariously well-timed practical joke by the Edge (see for yourself) and then came Bono’s INCREDIBLE voice. I guess I thought that his voice was done-up to sound more silky in the studio or something, but no. He has mad skills. Obviously this whole thing was staged to seem off-the-cuff (about which Bono makes a wry tongue-in-cheek reference) but it was still live, still Bono just doing his thing, and it was awesome. By the end of it he worked in a Questlove reference and the legendary Roots crew joined for the final chorus before commercial.

I’m excited that the show has gone in a younger direction. I think it was a really good opening, worthy of what the Tonight Show used to be/could be again. I agree with some commenters that all of late night TV in this decade basically exists to create web-viral-worthy moments to view on YouTube and blogs, and very few 20s and 30s will consistently watch the show in real time to see celebrities and musicians.

Even so, this was great TV, great music, and I’m excited to see what happens next.

Friday Jam: St Paul and the Broken Bones – I’m Torn Up

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone – this is a soulful blues rocker in the vein of Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin. The vocalists’ chops are completely dumbfounding (how is he not black?) and the horns are bright and energetic.  It’s a quick-moving ballad about true love and just “finding the groove.”

NPR has a nice write-up for their First Listen feature. This is the first track on the album that comes out next week.

Enjoy.