Tiny Desk Concerts

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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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If just one thing can be confirmed from these compelling Tiny Desk performances by the Calidore String Quartet, it should be that the centuries-old formula – two violins, a viola and a cello – is still very much alive and evolving. Indeed, an impromptu show of hands in the audience before the concert began revealed that almost everyone had seen a string quartet perform live.

Georgia Anne Muldrow is all about showing and spreading love. That fact became clear as we discussed the set list for her Tiny Desk performance. She and the band were floating the possibility of swapping the duet with her partner in music and life, Dudley Perkins with another song. But she decided it was more important to showcase their shared love on the song "Flowers," originally from Perkins' 2003 album A Lil' Light.

It was a day when sunlight drenched the office and the songs of heart from Courtney Marie Andrews felt right at home. It's been a year since her comforting album, May Your Kindness Remain, came out. Amazingly it's her sixth record, and yet she's still a just few years shy of 30. The opening number here at the Tiny Desk, the album's title track, is a shining example of why the songs of Courtney Marie Andrews endure, beginning with her words, based on friendships, and the understanding of a kind soul.

This is probably the loosest you'll ever see Weezer. Known for meticulously produced — and electric — live shows, frontman Rivers Cuomo and the rest of the band settled in behind the Tiny Desk for an entirely acoustic set without the in-ear monitors, click track or vocal separation they usually employ to stay locked-in and tight for bigger performances. The result is surprisingly intimate, with songs that feel lived-in and rumpled, like an old flannel shirt from the '90s.

Andrea Cruz brought a little bit of Puerto Rico with her when she took her place behind the Tiny Desk. It was present by way of the flag she hung up on the shelves, as well as in the lyrics of the songs and the style of music she expresses herself with.

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