Coronavirus has taken a lot of things from a lot of people, but one thing it can’t destroy is the magic of an NPR Tiny Desk concert.
Back in March, Bob Boilen announced that while he and the rest of the NPR staff would be working from home for the foreseeable future, his intimate concert series would continue—albeit remotely. Over the last six months, musicians from all over the world have played stripped-down, socially distanced sets from their homes and studios as the pandemic continues to decimate all that is enjoyable in this world. Some have tried to recreate Boilen’s iconically cluttered workspace while others have brought their own flair to the occasion, making the quarantine series as entertaining as the real deal. Here are ten of the best performances so far.
The Dirty Projectors
Though their line up constantly changes, the quality of The Dirty Projectors’ sound always stays the same thanks to the creative brilliance of founder and sole permanent member, David Longstreth. For their quarantine edition of Tiny Desk, the band delivered a 12-minute set so smooth and seamless it’s hard to believe each member played their part from a completely separate location. Everyone killed it, but extra props go out to drummer Mike Johnson for incorporating a teapot into his table-top kit.
This one’s hot off the press: President Phoebe Bridgers just uploaded a three-song set from behind the desk of the oval office, playing ‘Kyoto’, ‘Moon Song’, and ‘I Know the End’ off her near-flawless new record, Punisher. Pretty sure the LA-based singer-songwriter now holds the title for most Tiny Desk performances by one artist, having performed twice with her own band, once with side project boygenius, and once with her other side project, Better Oblivion Community Center.
If, like me, this is your first time hearing London-based, Lagos-born singer Tiwa Savage’s voice, prepare your ears for Christmas. For her performance, she set up shop with her incredibly tight backing band at a historic Nigerian vinyl store called Jazzhole, with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves mimicking Bob’s famous background. Savage’s three-song set is captivating throughout, but she really brings it home on the final track, ‘Koroba’, blending her native Yoruba language with Nigerian Pidgin English.
Billie Eilish is one of the few mainstream artists who deserves every skerrick of success she earns. The 18-year-old singer-songwriter is one of the biggest pop stars in the universe, yet still comes across like the coolest kid you’d ever hope to meet. Eilish also possesses the most controlled and ethereal whisper ever recorded, and the way she makes it all look so easy is one of the reasons why I hate the sound of my own voice so much. The other reason is that I sound like I’m always curiously concerned, which I blame on my year 2 teacher who used to throw my pencil case out the window for no discernible reason. Anyway, here’s Earth’s most talented teenager and her brother Finneas performing in front of a floor-to-ceiling printout of the real tiny desk because she can afford it.
Black Thought of The Roots
Donning a classic quarantine combo of slides and socks, The Roots frontman Tariq Trotter, aka Black Thought, reminded everyone of his lyrical prowess and finesse back in April when he delivered three new songs from the comfort of his study. Backed by nothing but a beat, two Grammys, and a Hermès throw, the maestro MC premiered ‘Thought Vs. Everybody’ and ‘Nature of the Beast’ from his EP, Streams of Thought Vol. 3, complete with a dial-in cameo from Portugal. The Man.
At this point in Kevin Parker’s illustrious career, there’s not much more you can say about the visionary behind Perth’s biggest export (second to iron ore). He’s cool, clever, and musically gifted beyond measure. While COVID cancellations have affected everyone, the fact that Kev waited five years to release Tame Impala’s latest record, The Slow Rush, only to have the coinciding world tour canned just weeks later must’ve been a real kick in the teeth. Hopefully, we’ll all get to see rainbow confetti rain from the sky again one day in our new and improved (though seemingly unlikely) post COVID world. In the meantime, here’s Kevin, Jay, and Tom recreating songs with samplers and sequencers as ‘Tame Impala Soundsystem’.
Have you ever wanted to be in a room so bad? The vibe Lila Iké and her band exude here is envy-inducing. From a multi-colour strobe-lit home in Jamaica, the 26-year-old singer saunters through four soulful songs from her recently released debut EP, The ExPerience, backed by no less than eight musicians, including two backup vocalists who almost steal the show. Almost.
Lianne La Havas
British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas’ 2015 Tiny Desk performance is one of the most-watched of all time, having amassed close to 15.5 million views. When you hear the way she (and her guitar) sings, it comes as little surprise that she’s garnered the following she has. Last month, Lianne dropped her new self-titled record, and it’s brought a much-welcomed sense of calm to this cyclonic year. Armed with naught but talent and a really good knit, enjoy 14 minutes of harmony and light.
First of all, how good is NYC singer-songwriter Diana Gordon’s at home tiny desk set up? A fluro lime Apple iBook (#tbt), sloppy pile of manila folders, and Larry David coffee mug are the perfect props to set a somewhat obscure scene for an artist whose sound defies labels. Citing Alanis, Whitney and Dolores O’Riordan as influences, Gordon’s voice is in a league of its own, and this stripped-down performance really highlights its authenticity.
2020 Conspiracy: Jeff Buckley didn’t really die.