NPR Tiny Desk concerts to enjoy during containment
As most of the country continues to operate under “shelter in place” orders, with limited to no businesses open and daily life restricted to the confines of home, finding creative ways to pass the time can be a bit challenging. Checking out new music is a great way to break up the day, and while there aren’t any live concerts happening in the near future, it’s still possible to catch up on the latest music online. NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series is a unique option for discovering new (or new to you) artists, with all of their concerts taking place 100% online. Created to provide a more intimate setting for musicians and fans alike, the shows tend to run between 15–20 minutes, as performers from around the world take the “stage” in what is a very unusual setting; a desk in the NPR offices.
Singer-songwriter Laura Gibson is said to be the inspiration behind the origins of the concerts. In 2008, “All Songs Considered” host Bob Boilen and NPR Music Editor Stephen Thompson attended one of her shows, and were frustrated that the noise levels in the venue kept them from hearing Gibson’s voice. After joking that Gibson should perform at Boilen’s desk, they arranged for her to do so, and posted the 15-minute “concert” online. Since then, the Tiny Desk series has grown into one of NPR’s most popular events, with artists from across the globe vying to perform. There have been more than 600 Tiny Desk concerts recorded to date, and they have become a much-sought-after accomplishment for both established and new artists.
Stacker sorted through NPR's editorial lists of top Tiny Desk concerts and manually compiled a diverse selection of 50. If you’re looking to explore new and different music, or revisit some of your favorites, take a look at Stacker’s curated playlist of NPR greats.
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Gibson’s 2008 performance included the folk songs “Hands in Pockets” and “Nightwatch,” both singles from her 2006 album, “If You Come to Greet Me,” as well as two unreleased songs. The 15-minute concert, which took place at Bob Boilen’s desk, has since been viewed more than 95,000 times on YouTube.
Performing in June 2008, while he was on tour to promote his album, “North Star Deserter,” Chesnutt’s set list includes songs from the new album as well as some older favorites. His songwriting and music skills were admired by many other well-known artists, with R.E.M.’s Michael Stipe producing two of his albums, and stars like Madonna covering his songs. Chesnutt died in 2009, having released a total of 17 albums over the course of his career.
While the Tiny Desk concerts were initially created to promote more intimate, quiet artists, legendary crooner Tom Jones expressed an interest in appearing—and Boilen couldn’t say no. Jones shows off his skills in the March 2009 show, jokingly referring to it as a “Big Desk Concert” and performing with musical director and guitarist Brian Monroney. His set list includes hits “If He Should Ever Leave You,” “We Got Love,” and “End of the Road.”
Indie-folk singer and guitarist Thao Nguyen, front-person for the band Thao & the Get Down Stay Down, gave a lively concert for NPR in Sept. 2008. Just coming off a big tour, she wows listeners with her renditions of “Bag of Hammers” and “Big Kid Table” among other songs.
Philadelphia-based rock band Dr. Dog managed to fill every available corner of desk space during their 2008 Tiny Desk concert. The five-piece group, all playing their individual instruments, perform several songs from their various albums, including “The Beach” and “Uncovering the Old.” The group still tours and performs today, and released a new album in 2018.
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Monsieur Periné is a Colombian group with a sound inspired by 1920s jazz. Winner of the Best New Artist award at the 2015 Latin Grammys, their 2016 Tiny Desk concert highlights some of the songs that made them famous. With the entire band and instruments backing her, lead singer Catalina Garcia sings in not only Spanish, but also mixes in bits of English, French, and Portuguese, making for an energetic, fun show.
Known for his stylistic, unusual violin playing, as well as his astounding vocals, Andrew Bird’s 2016 Tiny Desk performance is a next-level showcase of his talent. Bird performs songs from what was his newest album at the time, “Are You Serious,” with a set list that includes “Capsized” and “Roma Fade.” In addition to his solo career, Bird has also been a member of the bands Squirrel Nut Zippers and Pinetop Seven.
Performing music from his 2017 critically acclaimed album, “Green Twins,'' singer Nick Hakim shares what appear to be his innermost thoughts with songs such as “Cuffed” and “Needy Bees.” A Washington D.C. native, Hakim is a self-taught pianist and attended the Berklee College of Music. He recently announced the release of a new album, “Will this Make Me Good.”
Tedeschi Trucks Band
Husband and wife duo Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks have a bluesy-rock style alongside some serious vocal and guitar skills. Their 2016 Tiny Desk Concert is the perfect foil to those skills, with a set list that includes songs such as “Anyhow” and “Don’t Know what It Is.” The couple’s debut album, “Revelator” won a Grammy in 2012, and the band has been the recipient of multiple other music awards.
Despite the cramped quarters, artist PJ Morton managed to convince NPR to let him perform with a 10-piece string quartet for his 2018 Tiny Desk show, which resulted in a huge sound and a big-concert feel. Morton, who is a keyboardist for Maroon 5, plays songs from his Grammy-nominated solo album, “Gumbo” including the hits “First Began” and “Claustrophobic.”
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