The time has come to celebrate another year of incredible live performances delivered from the cosy cove of NPR host Bob Boilen’s desk.
2019 was chock-a-block (that’s Australian for packed) with over 90 Tiny Desk Concerts hosted at NPR HQ. As always, the intimate setting inspired some incredible musicians to strip down their live set and explore their sound in new and innovative ways. It also introduced us to some spectacular new artists that hadn’t been on our radar till they graced what Lizzo affectionately dubbed that ‘tiny, tiny ass desk.’ But as the year comes to a close, it’s time to shine a light on the performances that well and truly stood out from the pack. Featuring Ty Dolla $ign, Toro y Moi, Lizzo, Cat Power, Dave, IDLES and Mereba, here are the best Tiny Desk Concerts of 2019.
Ty Dolla $ign, August 2019
It feels fitting to kick this off with Ty Dolla $ign’s moving tribute to Mac Miller. On August 8, 2018, Mac performed what is widely considered one of the best Tiny Desk Concerts of all time before tragically passing away less than a month later. After playing his own Tiny Desk set, Ty was reminded that exactly one year earlier, Mac had performed there with the same backing band (consisting of Thundercat on bass and Justus West on guitar.) Unrehearsed, the band decided to add one last song to their set—an emotional and completely impromptu rendition of Mac’s 2016 hit, ‘Cinderella’. Safe to say there were no dry eyes left in the office that day.
Toro y Moi, May 2019
I know that Tiny Desk is all about the music, but can we talk about how impeccable Toro y Moi’s style is for a second? Also known as Chaz Bear, the singer-songwriter and producer affixed sparkles to his face, wrapped a silk scarf around his neck, tucked a vintage waffle into some well-tailored trousers and expected us to only concentrate on the music? Steez aside, the positivity radiating from this performance is strong enough to achieve world peace. Listen to that feel-good skat, that funky bassline, that seductive little shaker, and tell me you still believe in war. See?
Lizzo, August 2019
Lizzo is the absolute queen of stage presence, and her August Tiny Desk Concert is no exception. Who else can command an audience with such entertaining stage banter whilst smoothly transitioning into their next hit? Speaking of hits, how amazing is this rendition of her 2017 track, ‘Truth Hurts’? And how does she still have any voice left at all after that ferocious opener? People this talented kind of scare me.
Cat Power, February 2019
On the complete opposite end of the stage banter spectrum, you’ll find Cat Power, AKA Chan Marshall. But what she lacks in presence she sure as hell makes up for in soul. Powering through ‘Wanderer’ and ‘Woman’ from her 2018 album, Wanderer, it’s easy to forget there are any other instruments in play beyond her voice. Distinctive, emotive, and smokey-smooth. Without a single word to the crowd or the cameras, Chan ends her set with 2006’s ‘The Moon’, reminding us all why we remain transfixed after two decades of releases.
Dave, November 2019
Confession time: this is the first time I’d ever heard of Dave. First of all, how confident do you have to be to just call yourself ‘Dave’ as if people will be able to differentiate you from the plumber that’s coming to fix the kitchen tap at 8.15 am Tuesday? But then the British musician starts rapping and you realise he has unequivocally earned the right to claim ownership of the name Dave. The 21-year-old rapper released his debut album, Psychodrama, in March of this year, so consider this an introduction to your favourite new record.
IDLES, June 2019
There are many things to love about Bristol five-piece IDLES, but the fact they treated their Tiny Desk performance as if it were a regular rock show might just take the cake. Soaked in sweat, frontman Joe Talbot marches around the stage like a madman, with the rest of the band refusing to conform to the confines of the space. After completely obliterating their versions of ‘Never Fight A Man With A Perm’ and ‘Mercedes Marxist’, they drag some timid NPR staff into their zone for the grand finale. Easily the most ruckus Tiny Desk on record.
Mereba, December 2019
This performance is so hot off the press, Bob Boilen’s desk is still cooling down. Just a few days ago, Philadelphia singer, songwriter, rapper and producer Mereba came and laid it down at NPR and we’re all the better for it. After releasing three EPs over four years, Mereba dropped her debut album, The Jungle Is The Only Way Out, back in February this year. If you’re already a fan, you know how much talent this woman has. If you haven’t, hoo boy. Sit back and enjoy the ride.