The crowd requested “Mardi Gras.” Pandora provided the “playlist” - Sullivan Hall, March 3
The music industry is lost. The labels really have no clue as to how they can turn things around. And realistically, they probably can’t. At least not in terms of putting it back to where it was. After all, when you can purchase the one good song an artist puts out on a new album for about a buck, why would anybody spend even $9.99 for an album worth of filler material? And even more importantly, with the days of records stores all but over, people have no connection to the music anymore. It’s simply a digital file.
[Photos by Marc Millman]
And this now leads to the next problem for the industry. Why even buy that track when you can stream it from endless sites? And since you no longer have the Robs, Dicks & Barrys of High Fidelity or the staff of places like Smash on St. Marks to ask for recommendations, how can you find new music? Are you really going to put all of your faith into everything Apple and listen exclusively to what the “Genius” tells you?
Pandora Radio has been making music recommendations since being founded by the Music Genome Project 11 years ago. It’s not perfect. It doesn’t have an endless library. However, it does continue to expand. And it’s nice to be able to plug in the name of an artist (The Meters) or a song title (Bennie & The Jets) or a genre (Funk) and just let it go. And besides, nothing is perfect and none of us can own every song no matter how many blogs we may scour. And when it comes to the music biz, it’s ideas like Pandora and live concerts that actually work.
READ ON for Marc’s take on the Pandora Radio party…
In anticipation of Mardi Gras, Pandora Radio decided to throw a party. Rob Adler, who works for them in advertising sales, described it as “an attempt to encourage our clients to get out of their musical comfort zone and discover New Orleans music. At Pandora, we’re all about music discovery.” And to this end, they did it right.
An exclusive crowd of approximately 200 lucky people was invited to Sullivan Hall in the West Village for a taste of what that club does better than anyone else in New York since the greatly lamented closing of Tramps. In addition to food and an open bar, we got to hear some great music. Big Sam’s Funky Nation [I previously reviewed & described them as the perfect party band] treated those in attendance to an energetic hour-long opening set that included the crowd favorite mash-up of Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, Cee Lo’s Fuck You and Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance. And after a short break, an All-Star band took the stage for two hours of pure spontaneous jamming in the spirit of the Crescent City.
The legendary George Porter Jr. flew in from N’awlins to lead a five-piece band that included Big Sam Williams on trombone, Marco Benevento on keyboards, Will Bernard on guitar and BSFN’s “Milk” Williams on drums. With no prior experience playing together and little more than 30 minutes of discussion and a few quick lessons from George in the dressing room, the band treated the audience to a rocking set. Amongst the songs played were The Meters’ classics People Say and Just Kissed My Baby from 1974’s Rejuvination and their 1969 instrumental Pungee from Look-Ka Py Py. George also led them through a funky Blues cover of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s You Gotta Move made famous by the Rolling Stones and even referenced Sly Stone’s Sex Machine at the tail end of the song.
The set had a very loose feel to it. This came mainly from a bunch of talented musicians playing familiar music even if they didn’t particularly know all the songs as well as Mr. Porter. But in the spirit of the event, the band functioned just like the Music Genome Project that was the foundation for Pandora: it played a random mix of music that one can associate to New Orleans and its musical tradition.
Benevento worked his Baldwin piano, Rhodes and Hohner Clavinet keyboards. Bernard played the funky staccato rhythms and fills along with some tasty leads (even a little slide). Williams played the perfect foil to Porter adding backing vocals and dance moves to go along with his inspired trombone playing. And as the one band member who didn’t even sit in for the “rehearsal,” “Milk” was the glue that held it all together with his funky drumming. And as for the man himself…is there anyone who understands the history of American music that could ever question what George Porter Jr. brings to the plate?!?
But the best part of the night came just after the set ended and the last of the invited guests had exited. With only a few of the friends of the band left mingling with the staff of the club and some Pandora employees, the DJ put on some “play out” music. The first song was perfect for the night: Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill. With Will Bernard and Big Sam already off the stage, Marco started to play along with Fats’ rolling piano. “Milk” joined in on drums and George sung along. When this ditty ended, “Milk” left the stage as well. Then something truly special occurred. The DJ played Elton John’s classic Bennie & The Jets and Marco again played over the track. The few of us left in the crowd started to cheer and sing along, so George sort of faked the vocals as he smiled that huge smile that only George can. And then George walked over to the drum kit, sat down and played the beat while Marco kept tickling the ivories.
And finally the night was over and it was time to “log off,” to go home. But just like using Pandora, for many in attendance it was a chance to hear some new music. And for the few of us already well versed in the genre, it was a really special night. It was the type of night that will be cherished for quite some time to come. And the perfect way to get in the mood for Mardi Gras…