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Though I’m a self-proclaimed “fangirl” of the NPR Music’s Tiny Desk Concert series, I’ll be the first to admit—I had no idea what I was getting myself into when I pitched the idea for this story. Up until a few days ago, I had only seen what I now know is a very small handful of the recordings that have come out of the NPR Music office. And even then, I knew narrowing it down to five was going to be a tall order. But here I am. Hours later, with strained eyes and an inspired soul, ready to share five of my favorite Tiny Desk Concerts.
The five performances that follow were not chosen on their popularity, though some of the most watched were really hard to pass up and I did include one here. These five performances were chosen because I felt that they represented the beauty, rawness, intimacy and authenticity of this series as a whole. Let’s dive in!
Two words: Tony Shalhoub. AKA, Monk. AKA, Broadway star? In all seriousness, this theatrical performance is beyond phenomenal. It is the first Broadway musical to take over the tiny desk, and hopefully not the last.
As NPR puts it, this performance has “got heart and soul and flair, with a well-worn sound buoyed by strong, fresh songwriting.” It’s hard to believe that lead singer Paul Janeway was working as a bank teller only two years before this recording.
A little bit of R&B and hip-hop, a little bit of poetry and storytelling, A LOT of character and flair. That’s Tank And The Bangas, and this is their victory performance after winning 2017’s Tiny Desk Contest.
“Artists don't usually tell long, rambling stories at the Tiny Desk, and if they do, those stories don't usually make the final cut. But this one felt different.” This excerpt, written by Patrick Jarenwattanonon of NPR Music, is precisely why I felt compelled to add this performance to the list. The long, rambling and captivating story told by Christian in the middle of their set is one that you won’t want to fast forward through.
When I set out to find five Tiny Desk Concerts to feature in this story, I tried really hard to stay away from featuring any of the videos that appear at the top of a “NPR Tiny Desk Concert” YouTube search, but I had to make one exception – while Anderson .Paak & The Free Nationals is the most watched of all time, I thought T-Pain’s performance fit the bill for this story.
Stripped from every embellishment and effect we’re used to, T-Pain delivers a performance that showcases the raw talent we should all be fortunate enough to experience. Coupled with a sharp wit and playful humor, this concert is the epitome of what NPR’s Tiny Desk is all about.
Now please excuse me as I catch up with all the Tiny Desk Concerts that have been released since I started writing this story (here is a recent release that I currently have on repeat). Enjoy!