For those of you who are new here, it’s no secret that I’m a bit of a fan of NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series. There’s just something about the intimacy of seeing an artist perform in such a stripped down setting-be it someone’s home, an office space, a park, devoid of much augmentation or distraction-that lends itself so well to hearing things in the music that might go unnoticed otherwise. No stage lights or smokescreen and little, if any, electronic modification. Everything is reduced down to its most basic and primitive form… meaningful, personal & authentic… sometimes just the basic meat and potatoes taste the best.
NPR’s done about 125 of these video shoots behind All Songs Considered‘s Bob Boilen’s desk, and when I sat down yesterday to catch up on the last couple of months worth, there were too many amazing performances to watch them all. I decided to limit myself to a single month starting in late January and I’ll share my picks for the top five of that 30 day period with you here.
#5. Ok, so I’ve been on a bit of an Ivan & Alyosha kick lately, having already featured their tiny desk performance here, as well as featuring both of their EP’s on Fresh Tracks. I’ll give it a rest and introduce you instead to the diminutive but stalwart Esperanza Spalding. Spalding’s double bass towers over her in this video, even with a good 6-8 inches of fro adding to her apparent height. She doesn’t let that slow her down much. DO NOT pass on the middle tune, “Midnight Sun”, a solo effort only available on the Japanese release of her LP Chamber Music Society.
Set List: “Little Fly” “Midnight Sun” “Apple Blossom”
#4. Local Natives‘ debut Gorilla Manor was a breakthrough release for the LA quintet last year. Their afro-pop & cuban influenced guitars blended with hooky three-part harmonies caught us all off-guard, but it was the strength of their musicianship and songwriting were the real shocker. Great band. Great performance.
Set List: “Wide Eyes” “Cards & Quarters” “Airplanes”
#3. Everything that Adele Adkins touches seems to turn to gold. Her first LP 19 debuted at #1, received two Grammys and was certified 4x platinum. Her performance on SNL that year scored record viewership for the 35 year old show. This visit to Bob’s desk found her, almost literally, on the eve of the US release of her second LP 21. The album was already #1 in the UK and it also debuted there in the US, where it remains today. In some charting metrics, she’s putting up numbers not seen since the Beatles and Madonna. The girl just turned 23. Her eyelashes frighten and confuse me.
Set List: “Someone Like You” “Chasing Pavements” “Rolling In The Deep”
#2. Sam Beam, a.k.a. Iron & Wine ditches the band & strips it back down for this gorgeous old-school performance of three tunes from his amazing new album Kiss Each Other Clean and closes with one of my all-time favorites, Naked As We Came. I’ve seen Beam performing live a dozen times and never realized that, if he ever lost that full-on Garibaldi on his chin, he could pass for Giovanni Ribisi.
Set List: “Half Moon” “Big Burned Hand” “Tree By The River” “Naked As We Came”
“just a big dude playing sad songs”
#1. Don’t let the fact that Damien Jurado looks like a twelve year old boy trapped inside a lumberjack throw you off. That big teddybear is one of the greatest singer/songwriters alive today. Sometimes just the sound of his voice makes me tear up. Steven Thompson put it best:
“Jurado has spent the last decade churning out albums of raw, time-worn, authentically graceful music, and he’s always possessed a seemingly innate gift for capturing the intricacies of human behavior.”
What he said.
Set List: “Cloudy Shoes” “Newspaper Gown” “Arkansas” “Beacon Hill”