A Slice of Live - My Picks from NPR's Tiny Desk Concert Series
In a world where concerts have been on hold for nearly a year, virtual concerts have become all the rage. Chances are, your favourite artist has hopped on a livestreaming platform to perform some songs that they might have otherwise been performing for you in person. The experience isn't the same, of course, but it gives us a little taste of that live music feeling that so many of us are missing dearly. Long before virtual concerts were the norm, there has been an ongoing series of virtual concerts that give a sweet and to the point look at what artists are like live. NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series has been running for over a decade now, starting on a whim in 2008 at the idea of NPR host Bob Boilen. Since then, there have been over 800 concerts in the series, all of which are available for free on YouTube. In the beginning, the series focused primarily on indie rock and pop, bringing in a relatively narrow band of artists until a few years in when they began to really broaden their scope. Today I wanted to run through some of my favourites, in case you haven't seen them. An 800 video backlog is quite daunting, and while you may wish to go searching for your favourite artists (and odds are at least a few of them have performed), I wanted to share what I think are some of the essentials.
1. Anderson .Paak
No list of Tiny Desk Concerts would be complete without the genre-blending R&B/funk/soul/hip-hop powerhouse Anderson .Paak. Remaining behind the a small drum kit the entire time, Andy and his band deliver an impossibly groovy experience that you can't help but feel. Their opening number, Come Down, off of .Paak's 2016 album Malibu, with Andy delivering a simple but funky beat and a bright and energetic vocal performance, with a killer backing band in the form of the Free Nationals to boot, is simply the best place to start to get a feel for what these concerts can offer. That seems to be the general consensus as well, as this one is the most viewed concert on the page.
2. Mac Miller
The second on the list is also the second most viewed video on the channel, the dearly missed Mac Miller, who marks one of the earlier hip-hop entries to the series. In this performance, Miller brings forth his relatable and introspective stage presence, never leaving his stool, but delivering a one-of-a-kind show nonetheless. His band are soulful, and back up his thoughtful performance making it one of the best ways to remember Miller's special brand of artistry.
Lizzo is a one-of-a-kind artist in today's music scene. With a powerful voice, and undeniable charisma, this show is energetic, fun, and impossible not to pick up the vibes from. The band backs Lizzo up with a simple but unique spin on her typically electronic based music, including the ubiquitous single Truth Hurts, which took the world by storm back in 2019. If you need a performance to pick you up and give you the energy to make it through the rest of your week, this is the one for you.
Spending most of the show solo, Hozier is one of those uniquely charmimg artists whose polite and quiet Irish personality gives way to an immensely powerful voice, that draws you in with his brilliance of poetry and storytelling. This performance is no exception, and a particularly highlight is his closing piece, a personal all-time favourite song of mine, Cherry Wine. The song is dark, dealing with topics of domestic abuse, and how the abused can see things differently. With just his guitar, Hozier draws you in with the simplistic power of his work. This show is a perfect example of not necessarily needing to be the most energetic person to still be a phenomenal stage presence.
5. Wu-Tang Clan
There will never be another hip-hop collective like the Wu. Many other great groups have come along since, but none will capture the excitement and energy of the Wu-Tang Clan. Hailing from Staten Island and taking inspiration from the world of samurai films, they are definitely one-of-a-kind. In this performance, the group are older, but have nowhere near lost their energy. They sip coffee together, and find their groove just the same as they did during their 90s debut as a group before breaking off into a sizeable amount of successful solo careers. The show opens with the audience chanting for the group, as they take the mic with a tribute for Ol' Dirty Bastard, a founding member of the group who passed away in 2004. This show proves that Wu-Tang Clan will never lose their touch.
If you enjoyed any (or all!) of these performances, I'd strongly encourage you to check out the rest of the series, and get the taste of live music that so many of us need before the world can get back to seeing these artists that we love in the flesh.