One of the best parts of enjoying music is getting to experience your favorite artist playing a live show. But going to a concert is usually not only expensive, but oftentimes geographically difficult. And that’s where the Internet comes in to save the day. There are plenty of professionally shot and homemade YouTube videos out there to satiate the desire to see a musician perform, but some of the best ones come from a surprising source.
Although NPR is primarily known for its sometimes stuffy radio news programming, their music division hosts and makes videos of small concerts played in the venue of the D.C. NPR offices. They’re called “Tiny Desk Concerts”, and a quick search on YouTube will show you a nice sampling of the plethora of bands and musicians that have graced the desk. From old favorites to surprising new discoveries–Tiny Desk Concerts provide a wonderful way to enjoy music, no matter what you’re looking for.
From the looks of it, Tiny Desk Concerts would be more suited to smaller artists–and the majority of the musicians are relatively unheard of. But every once in a while, a star drops by. Mac Miller stopped by just last year to give a fantastic performance. In light of his tragic death, it feels like such a weighty thing to watch, but the truly beautiful thing about it is the joy that fills the whole show. Mac is joking around between songs, laughing as fellow musician Thundercat plays the shaker, and really seeming to genuinely enjoy sharing his songs.
Perhaps the queen of indie rock, St. Vincent, gave a quiet and personal performance of songs off her 2017 album, MASSEDUCTION as well. She’s often seen on stage backed by bright visuals, and she’s best known as an electric guitarist. But at her Tiny Desk, she fittingly flips the script and stands solo with only an acoustic guitar and her voice. The stark simplicity gives the songs a more intimate feeling that gets somewhat lost on the intricately produced album recordings of them.
One of the biggest rappers to ever come to the NPR headquarters has to be Tyler, the Creator. Atypical from the usual Tiny Desk arrangement, Tyler held his show at night and had his set beautifully lit with atmospheric shades of red and blue and pink to match the tone of each song. His live shows are full of intense and concentrated energy, but in the Tiny Desk setting, Tyler’s more soulful songs really got a chance to shine, and his infamous sense of humor was not lost. It’s a remarkable display of the rapper’s talents and consideration for every part of his performances.
It’s definitely a treat to see such big-name artists in a setting other than a huge venue, the real gems of Tiny Desk concerts lie within their videos of smaller artists that you might be able to catch at a house show someday. It’s absolutely glorious to see these artists pour their hearts out into these little performances for the folks at NPR–and the emotions can range from thundering rage to shining happiness.
The saxophone-and-drum trio Moon Hooch gave what was perhaps the most passionate, energetic, and sweaty Tiny Desk Concert of all time. These guys aren’t the saxophonists from your local marching band–their sound is more akin to the musical screaming of punk infused with the complex melodies of jazz and the infectious rhythms of dance music. These guys have an almost inhuman amount of energy, and it’s enthralling to witness. Their set is nonstop, and it kind of makes you want to get up and off the Internet so you can go make something as stirring as Moon Hooch’s music.
The electronic duo Sylvan brings a completely different kind of energy to the tiny desk. Though their music is similar to that of Moon Hooch with its dancy beats and propensity to get people to move, NPR employees on their lunch break aren’t always in the mood for such wild abandon. The pair plays some of the enchanting softer songs from their self-titled debut and singer Amelia Meath jokes about the subdued nature of the concert-goings in an utterly charming manner. It taps into a lovely little awkwardness and subtle that you wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else in the world of live music videos.
One of my personal favorite Tiny Desk Concerts comes from The Music Tapes. Fronted by indie legend of Neutral Milk Hotel fame, Julian Koster, these guys deliver a sweet and whimsical Christmas special that’ll make your day brighter anytime of the year. Complete with singing saws, disarming childhood stories, and one of the greatest hats of all time, this Tiny Desk is one of the best things on YouTube. If you’re in the right mood, it might make you cry. It’s just so inventive and creative– Koster is one of the most genuinely kind people on the planet, and this Tiny Desk is a record of something truly wonderful, and the world is lucky to have it. But I’ll let you judge that for yourself.
There’s so much music out in the world–yet it’s still so difficult to find something to fit your tastes. That’s where Tiny Desk Concerts come in to save the day! There’s something in the seemingly endless catalogue of shows for everyone–from the finest hip hop to the wildest classical. Discovering new artists that you’d never find on your own or even think that you’d be interested in listening to is probably the most rewarding part of consistently checking out new Tiny Desk Concerts. I’ve become a fan of bands after finding them through Tiny Desks. Go search through–try something new. You’re bound to find something you’re interested in!