Cincinnati indie rockers Wussy were the featured musicians in KEXP's favorite studio session of the year.
Cincinnati indie rockers Wussy were the featured musicians in KEXP's favorite studio session of the year.
Every year, public radio stations across the nation invite musicians of all stripes to perform live in their studios. When these sessions are captured on video, they invite us to experience the intimate energy the artists bring to a small-scale live performance.
We asked some of our station partners to each choose just one favorite studio session out of all they recorded in 2014. The results, including a heartfelt indie rock band from Cincinnati, a 20-year-old pianist with an affinity for the playful side of Bach, a Grammy-winning treasure of American bluegrass and a 19-piece ensemble that combines the traditions of big-band jazz and classic hip-hop crews, cut across genres.
Watch all 16 of public radio's favorite sessions of the year below.
Public Radio's Best In-Studio Performances Of 2014
Wussy, Live At KEXP
Out of the nearly 400 in-studios we filmed this year, each with its own special moments, the session that stood out most to me wasn't by one of the biggest names or most venerable artists to step into our studio, but the one that hit me with the most genuine feeling. Wussy, like their name implies, are the underdogs of indie rock. They're not Brooklyn twentysomethings; they still hold day jobs; they would't consider "normcore" ironic and — oh, yeah — they live in Cincinnati. Theirs is a world without hype or glamour, one that sometimes comes with a bit of hardship and heartache, but clearly Wussy's world is still quite "Beautiful." —Jim Beckmann, KEXP
Revive Big Band, Live At WBGO
For whatever mysterious reason, some songs never get tired. "Speak No Evil," by Wayne Shorter, originally released on Blue Note Records in 1964, comes to mind. It's a standard of all standards, a personal favorite of Blue Note Records President Don Was, jazz-R&B star Robert Glasper, and so many others. "Wayne Shorter — I ain't got to say nothing but that," trumpeter Igmar Thomas of the Revive Big Band proclaims before he takes on the magnum opus. This is his hip-hopification of already haloed material. Try not bouncing your head to it. —Simon Rentner, WBGO's The Checkout
Mimicking Birds, Live At opbmusic
Mimicking Birds' songs can sound like fever dreams, as Nate Lacy sings softly about birds, water, light and galaxies over fluttering guitars and circular melodies. Signed to Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock's label, Glacial Pace, the band's just released its second record, Eons. In one of our favorite opbmusic videos of 2014, Lacy talks about Mimicking Birds' trajectory, and we hear the group play gorgeous versions of "Bloodlines" and "The Loop." —David Christensen, opbmusic.org
Of Monsters And Men, Live At WXPN
A one-time opportunity. A live acoustic performance in Iceland, at Of Monsters and Men's own rehearsal space, of a song, "Silhouettes," that they had only played once before, when they recorded it for the Hunger Games: Catching Fire soundtrack. So, no sleep, no real mixing board for sound, no lights (!), one camera. Thank the Icelandic gods that the band had to rehearse a bit so camera man John Vettese could get multiple shots. Kim Junod carefully mixed minimal inputs on the fly. Back in The States, Rich McKie fashioned the final version you see (complete with silhouettes!) It all came together thanks to a breath-taking performance from Of Monsters and Men. —David Dye, WXPN's World Café
Alicia Weilerstein, Live At WQXR
We are just coming off of our Bachstock month here at WQXR, but this video with Alicia Weilerstein performing Bach's Cello Suite No. 3, Gigue, was recorded and filmed in January in the cafeteria of New York Public Radio. That morning was a particularly sunny one, and the lighting was so dramatic that it made for a great-looking video. Weilerstein, a favorite of WQXR, has come back to the Café Concert series twice, as well as being the featured soloist on the closing night broadcast from Caramoor this year. She brings a passion to her playing and this performance runs at a exuberant pace. —Mike Rinzel, WQXR
Perfect Pussy, Live At WNYC
The ideal way to witness Perfect Pussy is in a cramped room mobbed with fans collectively losing their minds to the ecstatic, pile-driving fury. After a string of now-storied early performances in Williamsburg DIY spaces and at CMJ and SXSW — and its unrelenting eight-songs-in-23-minutes album, Say Yes To Love — the Syracuse hardcore band's reputation reached fever pitch. An assured barrage of scorching guitars and feedback squall, the band's set at Soundcheck, comprised of "Advance Upon the Real," "IV" and "Work," is 15 minutes of unforgettable punk music. And at the center is the powerful vocal assault of front woman Meredith Graves, who addresses social injustice and censorship, gender politics and female empowerment with an unfiltered and ecstatic rage. Put simply: Perfect Pussy is one of 2014's most self-affirming and vital bands. —Mike Katzif, WNYC's Soundcheck
Rodrigo Amarante, Live At WAMU
"Just the sound of ice, like, in the cup — it refreshes me just to hear that," Rodrigo Amarante said at the top of his Bandwidth studio session. It was late June, and the Brazilian songwriter had come to D.C. to play the Sixth and I Historic Synagogue. What he gave us was the most transfixing — and yes, refreshing — performance we filmed this year. The lyrics to "Irene" are tough to parse for non-Portuguese speakers like myself, but it's a simple, wrenching song that emits a lunar glow. It helps that Amarante is a practiced performer, having played with Los Hermanos, Orquestra Imperial, Little Joy (with Strokes drummer Fabrizio Moretti) and Devendra Banhart; his facial expressions, particularly his wide, earnest eyes, transmit subtle anguish. But by song's end, Amarante has returned from his lonely trip to the moon, springing to his feet when he's offered a cup of water. With ice. —Ally Schweitzer, WAMU's Bandwidth
Industrial Revelation, Live At KPLU
We were thrilled by legends and international stars this year, but my favorite KPLU studio session featured Seattle-based quartet Industrial Revelation performing "End of Courtesy." Modern soul-flavor, masterful compositions and passionate performance hit heights that still have my co-workers talking months later. High-level art meets crowd-pleasing energy: this is 21st-century jazz. —Abe Beeson, KPLU's Jazz24
Del McCoury Band, Live At Bluegrass Country
Del McCoury is widely lauded as an American treasure in traditional music circles and has a direct link to bluegrass music's founding father Bill Monroe (McCoury was a member of Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in the early 1960s). Throughout his career, McCoury has also been one of bluegrass's great innovators. He's collaborated with musicians as varied as the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Steve Earle and honed an ever-more-progressive sound that bridges old and new. This song, "Big Blue Raindrops," comes from the group's Grammy Award-winning album Streets of Baltimore and showcases precisely why The Del McCoury Band has been one of the premiere live acts in bluegrass music for nearly 30 years. Despite intricate interplay and three-part harmonies, they work the microphones perfectly and make the "dance" look effortless. —Jerad Walker, WAMU's Bluegrass Country
Conrad Tao, Live At WGBH
Conrad Tao performed Bach's Toccata in F Sharp Minor in the midst of an evening that also included music by Elliott Carter, David Lang and Chopin. Maybe those other voices injected the vibrancy and color you hear into the 20-year-old composer-pianist's performance. But it may also have been the setting. It was a Groupmuse event, giving Tao the opportunity to essentially host a party centered on music. Given what we know about Bach, the seriousness and devotion of his life had another side. That night, more than most, his music truly spanned the centuries and the generations. —Brian McCreath, WGBH
Damon Albarn, Live At WFUV
In the '90s, Damon Albarn and his Blur bandmates were Britpop darlings, countering American grunge with cheeky brio. Restless, Albarn eventually formed three other bands, including Gorillaz. He exuberantly collaborated with Malian and Congolese musicians and delved into theater and opera. Surprisingly, though, Albarn waited until 2014 to release his "official" solo debut. That album, Everyday Robots, is wistful and autobiographical, ruminating on childhood, relationships gone sour and the isolating impact of modern technology. Last month, Albarn and his band the Heavy Seas visited WFUV for a session and performed a poignant version of "Lonely Press Play," joined by New York's Scorchio Quartet. —Kara Manning, WFUV
Benjamin Booker, Live At The Current
It's an oversimplified scenario often depicted on television or in films: A record executive goes to a gig, hears a kid who shows promise and offers that kid a contract on the spot. But such things don't happen in real life, right? For Benjamin Booker, seen here performing "Violent Shiver," it did. Here's why. —Brett Baldwin, MPR's The Current
Donnacha Dennehy, Live At Q2
In his piano trio Bulb, composer Donnacha Dennehy turns a genre maximally associated with Classical-era grace on its head. More raucous than graceful, Bulb is a breathless exploration of timbre; Donnacha takes an acoustic ensemble and, by picking just the right spectrum-y notes and microtones, creates an impressively massive depth of sound. The result is a piano trio that you would swear employs some secret electronics somewhere. We promise it doesn't. —Nadia Sirota, WQXR's Q2 Music
Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, Live At Folk Alley
Our video session with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn was easily our favorite of 2014. We were excited to combine the virtuosic talent of Béla and Abby with the acclaimed room acoustics of the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in Troy, N.Y. The results did not disappoint. "Shotgun Blues" is a "vengeful guilt trip" by Abby, written as a reaction to all the murder ballads she has heard over the years where women are on the receiving end. This performance features Béla on his Gibson Mastertone (style 75) and Abigail on her Gold Tone cello banjo, using them as percussion for a pretty cool arrangement. —Linda Fahey, WKSU's Folk Alley
The Preatures, Live At KUTX
In the short four years they've been together, the five-piece alternative rock and pop group The Preatures have been causing a stir down under and across the globe. Originating in Sydney, Australia, "The Preachers" were formed by high school friends Thomas Champion and Jack Moffitt, playing "bad Rolling Stones covers." The group solidified after adding Isabella Manfredi, Gideon Benson and Luke Davison in 2010. Following a creative name change, The Preatures signed with Mercury Records and released a debut EP, Shaking Hands, in 2012. "Is This How You Feel," the title track to a second EP, which the band plays here, led to considerable success, from songwriting prizes to heavy radio play. When the band took the next step this year, releasing its first full length album, Blue Planet Eyes, the song was there too. —Jack Anderson, KUTX
Interpol, Live At KCRW
Interpol recently took the stage at Mack Sennett Studios in Los Angeles to perform a few songs from its new album, El Pintor, as well as a handful of fan favorites. The small, dedicated crowd was thrilled to experience the New York City rock band in such an intimate setting — that energy propels this performance of its standout single, "All The Rage Back Home." —Jason Bentley, KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic