Tiny Desk Concerts

When vocalist Ileana Cabra Joglar and her band visited the Tiny Desk, they'd just arrived from the front lines of the historic demonstrations taking place in Puerto Rico. Two days earlier, they were part of a crowd of tens of thousands who were on the streets calling for the resignation of embattled Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. (Rosselló recently stepped down, effective Friday.)

Joey Burns and John Convertino had just about seen it all. Their band, Calexico, has been around for nearly a quarter-century, and in that time together they've churned out a long string of albums and collaborated with countless musicians on countless projects. But they'd never set foot behind the Tiny Desk until the day we recorded this performance.

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Lots of musicians cut corners during sound check. It's a time to make sure everyone's in tune and in balance, everyone's blocked properly for the cameras, and every piece of recording equipment is doing its job the way it's supposed to, but it's not as if anyone's rolling tape for posterity. Sometimes, Tiny Desk artists do their sound check in shabby street clothes before ducking into the green room to don their fancy performance wear. It's standard procedure, and no big deal at all.

I was thrilled to have the gifted voice of Tamino gracing the Tiny Desk. But as charged as I was, that didn't match the excitement that Colin Greenwood expressed as we rode up the elevator. The Radiohead bassist (and bassist for this special performance) shared a brief text exchange with his son, basically telling his hugely accomplished dad that playing the Tiny Desk was "the coolest thing he'd ever done!" That made us all smile.

We've been covering Priests, this fabulous, punk-infused art band, since 2013. I've seen them a lot (they're based here in D.C.). So the request of an upright piano was the last thing I expected when singer Katie Alice Greer and guitarist G.L. Jaguar talked about doing a Tiny Desk Concert. But we wheeled the Yamaha upright in place and they invited their accompanist Mary Voutsas to join bandmates Daniele Yandel and Alexandra Tyson. What we have is a kinder, gentler and starker version of this great band.

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Sting and Shaggy might not be the most likely musical pairing. But one thing is certain, they love playing each other's music. On a bright autumn morning, the legends arrived at the NPR Music office bleary-eyed yet excited to play for the diverse staff of Shaggy and Sting fans. What surprised many of my NPR colleagues is just how well the collaboration works.

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Who would've thought that American Football's fruitful reunion would include a children's choir at the Tiny Desk?

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In the NPR parking garage, Gemma Doherty pulled her 34-string lever harp from the band's vehicle; it seemed bigger than all of us. The other instruments were less exotic — a few small synthesizers, a sampler, electronic drum pads — but I was feeling thrilled by what was about to unfold.

Quinn Christopherson may be the winner of the 2019 Tiny Desk Contest, but this year's 6,000-plus entries included many outstanding performances.

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In the course of a few songs at the Tiny Desk, Imogen Heap took us through her many musical talents. The concert began with her old Frou Frou musical partner, Guy Sigsworth — and their first new song in 17 years — and ended with an extraordinary demonstration and performance of her high-tech musical gloves.

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Before I bring an artist to the Tiny Desk, I try to see them perform live. It helps me get a handle on what they'll be capable of doing at my desk, minus all the artful tinkering of a studio. But I never saw Tomberlin before she came to my desk.

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During the course of their performance behind the desk, the four core members of LADAMA — Lara Klaus, Daniela Serna, Mafer Bandola and Sara Lucas — had a chance to display their individual cultural and musical roots as part of an engaging and mesmerizing whole. Represented in glorious musical virtuosity are Brazil, Colombia and Venezuela, with a dash of New York City thrown in just to make it interesting.

Jeremy Dutcher came to the Tiny Desk with sparkling, purple streams of glitter draped around his shoulders. Then he set his iPad on our Yamaha upright piano, not to read his score as pianists do these days, but to play a centuries-old wax cylinder recording of a song sung in the incredibly rare language of Wolastoq. Jeremy Dutcher, along with cellist Blanche Israel and percussionist and electronics wizard Greg Harrison, wove that old recording into a remarkably passionate performance that was very 21st-century, with a deep nod to a century past.

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I've watched a lot of Tiny Desk concerts over the years. It's good to see musicians in the raw, away from stage lighting and backing tracks — as if they've just stopped by an office to play over a lunch break, with desk-bound employees watching on. The performances should expose flaws, but instead they tend to expose musicians being casually brilliant, like the members of Ensemble Signal, who certainly play these pieces beautifully.

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When the intrepid string quartet known as Brooklyn Rider first visited the Tiny Desk nine years ago, no one knew what the musicians might play. They're as likely to trot out an Asian folk tune as they are a string quartet by Beethoven, or one of their own compositions.

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When Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart fired up their angular guitar sounds during soundcheck at the Tiny Desk, I was thrilled. The shrieking, rhythmic noise these two classically trained musicians make as Ohmme is what made their debut album, Parts, a musical highlight for me in 2018. But hearing them in the office, trading vocals with such ping-pong precision, sent me into euphoria. This is now one of my all-time favorite Tiny Desk concerts.

Prepare to be calmed.

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