Tiny Desk Concerts from NPR Music feature your favorite musicians performing at All Songs Considered host Bob Boilen's desk in the NPR office. Hear Wilco, Adele, Passion Pit, Tinariwen, Miguel, The xx and many more. This is the audio version of the podcast. A video version is also available.More from Tiny Desk Concerts - Audio »
I first saw Phox in an impromptu concert at a restaurant in Philadelphia. I thought the band was talented and charming, and I still do. Phox is six friends from Baraboo, Wis., who make pretty, catchy music. The group's not-so-secret weapon is Monica Martin, who sings with a smoky lilt in front of spare, tasteful instrumentation. You can hear that warm, accessible sound on Phox's 2014 debut, which was recorded at Wisconsin's April Base studio, built by Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and his brother. Touring has tightened this band since that off-the-cuff restaurant performance last year, as this marvelous performance at the Tiny Desk suggests.
Sometime years from now I may be asked: What was your favorite day at NPR? I am likely to say it's the day Dan Deacon got the NPR staff worked up into a giant dance party! It's also the day Deacon and staff wheeled in an upright piano and connected it to his computer — a magical mix of old player piano and electronic avant-garde. Yes, Deacon makes electronic music and dance music, but it's not the thump thump thump stuff you'd go to a club for. It's a mix of Brian Eno, Philip Glass and your kids' birthday party (if you were the cool parents your kids wished they had). Dan came toting songs and that piano from his new record (which is quickly becoming my favorite of his), Gliss Riffer. The party really kicked into gear with the second song. And by the end you'll find me and my All Songs Considered co-host doing wild dance moves with 100 people. There'd never been a day at NPR quite like this!
With her huge voice and an assist from talented trombonist Daniel Walter Eaton, Zola Jesus presented a curious combination at the Tiny Desk — a combination I hardly ever encounter. Having seen her mostly with a big and powerful band, I wondered if this configuration would work. But it was magic, with the trombone poignantly complementing her mellifluous voice and stark personal words.Zola Jesus is the work of Nika Roza Danilova. She has five albums that span and mix electronic music, classical and goth influences. She's always exploring unusual combinations, and this mix of trombone and voice provides just a glimpse into her eclectic explorations. If you find this intriguing and don't know Zola Jesus, you're in for an adventure as you explore her catalog, including her most recent album, Taiga.
The beauty of the Tiny Desk lies, at least partially, in the limitations of size and technology. We rarely amplify voices, for example, so for a band like Until The Ribbon Breaks, the challenge becomes how to take a loud electronic sound down to a volume where singer Pete Lawrie-Winfield can be heard. In this case, the solution involved a spaghetti strainer, a paint bucket and an acoustic guitar.It wasn't easy for Until The Ribbon Breaks to devise new arrangements for tried-and-true songs like "Pressure," from its full-length debut A Lesson Unlearnt. But it worked, because the Cardiff band's dance beats are always secondary to strong melodies and songwriting.
When I first imagined Mucca Pazza at the Tiny Desk, I honestly had no idea how the Chicago band's 23 members would fit in — in the literal sense of the term. To load-test this performance, we actually gathered a gaggle of interns behind my desk and began to stack people on cabinets, step-stools and, of course, desks.In nearly seven years of doing Tiny Desk Concerts, with more than 400 participating acts, this turned out to be the biggest one yet. It was also one of the most fun, with Mucca Pazza performing songs from its album L.Y.A. using trombones, saxophones, trumpets, woodwinds, violin, electric mandolin, accordion, cello, guitar, sousaphone, a big bass drum, percussion instruments and more. Then there were the cheerleaders.I first heard this giant performance-art marching band at globalFEST 2013, and Mucca Pazza's mix of cacophony, symphony and crazed frolic makes it a large, lovable renegade. The band just celebrated its first 10 years together, so if you missed the first decade, prepare to be a fan of the next. You may even be tempted to join this circus.
It might be easy to dismiss a music project from actor John Reilly, but that would be a huge mistake: Reilly is a fine singer, especially when he gets a hold of old-time material, and his guitar work provides a perfect foundation for these church and porch tunes from America's past.Reilly's eclectic choice of collaborators speaks to his passion and dedication:Tom Brosseau and Becky Stark are no strangers to folk tradition. Brosseau's striking voice was first heard on NPR in 2006 — he performed a Tiny Desk Concert of his own last year — while Stark is a performer and a singer known to many as Lavender Diamond. Her voice fits in sweetly between Reilly's and Brosseau's in a way that recalls her work in the country trio The Living Sisters. Rounding out this home-brewed acoustic affair is Andru Bemis on banjo and fiddle, as well as Soul Coughing's Sebastian Steinberg, who plays upright bass with finesse and humor.So turn off the lights, blot out the distractions, light a candle or two, and let the glow — and the glow of your screen — transport you to country's past, when singers would all gather around a single mic. This is a band meant to play a Tiny Desk Concert.
I was in Nashville, standing in line at a food/music festival, when this guy behind me hears my voice, recognizes me and says, "Hey, Bob Boilen! Bobby Bare Jr. here. I've been hoping to play your desk." Truth be told, I'd been hoping to make that happen, too. And so the deal was sealed over a pork bun. Thirty minutes later, at the same festival, Bare was on stage with his dad, the country legend Bobby Bare Sr., and Kings Of Leon. That's Nashville for you.Bobby Bare Jr. is a sharp-witted guy whose love/hate relationship with Nashville comes from a life surrounded by music; he was raised by country singers and even had his own name on a hit record when he was only 8. The Tiny Desk seemed a perfect place for the lighthearted sound he crafts with his funny, piano-playing collaborator, Matt Rowland. At times, Bare sings about promising "to get more famous friends" (in "The Big Time") and pokes fun at the music business in Nashville. He writes with acidic wit — "You don't even need to sing on key / Producers with computers can fix it all in Nashville, Tennessee" — in lines worthy of young Bobby's mentor, Shel Silverstein.
Before Rubblebucket played its Tiny Desk Concert, its members asked if they could bring a confetti cannon. And, though I said no — dear coworkers, I really do care about you — the band still brought a fun mix of brass and brash to the Tiny Desk.
At the front of this band is Kalmia Traver and Alex Toth; she sings clever words, straps a tambourine to her foot and plays the flute, while he plays trumpet, flute and more. I really like this band and its attitude — party-friendly but with a serious side, perhaps informed by Traver's recent battle with cancer — which comes through nicely on Rubblebucket's new album, Survival Sounds. So set aside a few minutes to take this little carousel ride, courtesy of a band like few others.
I came to know Daniel Lanois through his instrumental collaboration with Brian Eno, Apollo: Atmospheres And Soundtracks, in 1983.I fell in love with Lanois' own music through his singing and the heartfelt, textured songs on albums like 1989's lovely Acadie (with its New Orleans flavor) and 1993's For The Beauty Of Wynona (with its haunting sounds and stories). Most fans know Lanois as a remarkable producer for the likes of Bob Dylan, U2 and Peter Gabriel.
What Daniel Lanois brought to the Tiny Desk recalled that early work while still sounding new: He led an all-instrumental, somewhat improvisational trio based on the sort of studio processing for which he's become famous. In essence, he brought the studio out of the studio — with the aid of two great players, drummer Brian Blade and bassist Jim Wilson — and directly to my desk. The title of Lanois' new album, Flesh And Machine, describes the music well. He never says a word, but he sculpts some serious, hypnotic sounds.
He came so humble, holding his acoustic guitar and wearing his heart on his sleeve. Trey Anastasio isn't new to NPR: Concerts of his have even included "All Things Reconsidered," a variation on the All Things Considered theme.
Anastasio was in town to perform a concert with his big band of brass and brawn, but this selection of Phish and solo tunes felt more personal. "Summer of '89" is about his wife, Sue, while "Backwards Down the Number Line" reflects on his bandmates and friends. He opened this set with "Sleep Again," a song that looks to a better and brighter future. It's a treat to catch such an intimate glimpse of someone often seen in arenas, steeped in collaboration.