Thao Nguyen: Tiny Desk Concert Thao Nguyen makes captivating music. Her songs are raw and infectious, her voice has a distinctive swagger, and she's a nimble guitarist. She stopped by NPR's offices to give an intimate performance.

Tiny Desk

Thao Nguyen

Thao Nguyen makes captivating music: Her songs are raw and infectious, her voice has a distinctive swagger, and she's a remarkably nimble guitarist. Nguyen's songs come from real and jarringly honest places.

Last summer, a friend invited me to see the singer and her backing band The Get Down Stay Down open for another great up-and-comer in the D.C. area, Le Loup. It's easy to dismiss local opening bands, especially if you've never heard of them. But after seeing Thao Nguyen that night, she's quickly become one of my favorite new artists.

Nguyen and her band play it loose and frantic at times, which can lead to imperfections. But it's those moments — those throaty, sometimes off-kilter melodic phrases — that make her music so endearing. It makes her performances so much more dynamic, with a vibrancy well beyond the basic notes.

While songs like "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)" may play on themes of coming of age, angst and a failure to commit, the singer's music inhabits a joyous, lilting world — somewhere between indie-folk and bluesy, country twang.

Since that first show I attended last year, Nguyen has released the critically well-received We Brave Bee Stings and All, an album I keep coming back to, and one that will surely rank among my picks for the best records of 2008.

During her rare break between opening for Rilo Kiley and a recently completed headlining tour this summer, we invited Thao Nguyen to play a Tiny Desk Concert for us at NPR. It was clear that, even in the intimate company of about 25 people, Nguyen's songs are energetic and engaging. She transformed a typical muggy Monday morning into a memorable day at the office.

Set List

  • "Bag of Hammers"
  • "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)"
  • "Big Kid Table"
  • "Feet Asleep"

Credits

Cameras and production by Bob Boilen and Frannie Kelley

[+] read more[-] less

More From Tiny Desk

Wale performs a Tiny Desk concert on Oct. 30, 2019. Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Laura Beltrán Villamizar/NPR

Wale

The Washington D.C. rapper gives a charismatic performance full of humor, heart and plenty grooves, for the Tiny Desk Fest.

Yola Carter performs during tiny desk on December, 12, 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Yola

The singer who once sang for Massive Attack and sampled by Iggy Azalea and The Chemical Brothers, is front-and-center at the Tiny Desk.

Joyce DiDonato performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Nov. 11, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR) Catie Dull/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Catie Dull/NPR

Joyce DiDonato

Watch the celebrated opera star deconstruct old Italian love songs with her signature flair, backed by a crack jazz ensemble.

Jordan Rakei performs during Tiny Desk on Nov. 15 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Jordan Rakei

Despite some unexpected gear problems, the soulful R&B artist and his band locked-in and played a phenomenal set behind the Tiny Desk.

Brownout performs a Tiny Desk Concert on Oct. 18, 2018. Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Cameron Pollack/NPR/Cameron Pollack/NPR

Brownout

The Austin, Texas band brought old-school R&B horns, bongos and deep grooves to the Tiny Desk.

Bridget Kibbey performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Oct. 24, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR) Catie Dull/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Catie Dull/NPR

Bridget Kibbey

The irrepressible harpist proves that the instrument can be as tempestuous as a tango, as complex as a Bach fugue and sing as serenely as a church choir.

Jon Batiste performs during Tiny Desk on November, 8 2019. (Photo by Mhari Shaw/NPR) Mhari Shaw/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Mhari Shaw/NPR

Jon Batiste

Jon Batiste's Tiny Desk Concert was published prematurely. The new publication date is March 2020.

Daniel Norgren performs during a Tiny Desk concert, on Sep. 25, 2019. (Catie Dull/NPR) Catie Dull/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Catie Dull/NPR

Daniel Norgren

The Swedish singer sways and writhes as he and his band create a dream state calming enough to slow the day's hectic pace to a crawl. Take a seat on a comfy couch and have a listen.

Spanglish Fly performs at a Tiny Desk Concert on Sept. 9, 2019. (Emily Bogle/NPR) Emily Bogle/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Emily Bogle/NPR

Spanglish Fly

Spanglish Fly is one of the pioneers of the boogaloo revival scene happening on the East Coast. For about sixteen minutes, they turned the NPR Music offices into the hottest Latin dance club in D.C.

Balún plays a Tiny Desk Concert (Claire Harbage/NPR). Claire Harbage/NPR hide caption

toggle caption Claire Harbage/NPR

Balún

It's impossible to not be drawn in by the visual specter of Balún as the band mixes traditional instruments and electronics, set against a rich tapestry of voices.

Back To Top