Individually, Fleck, Meyer and Hussain are world-class masters of the banjo, the bass fiddle and the tabla, respectively. Playing together in the offices of NPR Music, the three demonstrate the way musical mastery can be transformed into an exercise in wordless communication.
Conor O'Brien essentially is Villagers. The Dublin, Ireland, native played nearly all of the instruments on the band's debut album, Becoming a Jackal, and even did the cover artwork. Though he tours with a full backing band, for this Tiny Desk performance he showed up with just his guitar. In the process, he treated the NPR staff to one of the most beautiful and memorable sets we've had here.
Los Campesinos! usually performs with as many as eight members — the group needs that many to reproduce the mightily clamorous ruckus heard on its records — but only four Campesinos are present here. And while there's no nudity or violence in this performance by the whip-smart U.K. band, the group's bawdy, often sexually suggestive lyrics make this the closest we've come to a NSFW Tiny Desk Concert.
Gogol Bordello's frenetic live show is a gypsy punk circus, complete with a high-wire act. So when the band arrived at the modest NPR Music offices, we wanted to make sure we were covered technically. If you watch this video and don't get to the part where Eugene Hutz dances on the desks, then you've missed the most rollicking and insane Tiny Desk Concert of all time.
Even after 12 million albums sold in more than three decades, Yankovic and his band still hadn't played their first Tiny Desk Concert until just now. In these three Yankovic originals (1988's "Good Old Days," 1992's "You Don't Love Me Anymore" and the new White Stripes pastiche "CNR"), it's remarkable how quickly the singer and his band adjust and thrive.
Laura Burhenn says she'd long imagined a band that sounded like Neil Young playing Motown. A veteran of the pop group Georgie James, she formed The Mynabirds to capture a grittier and more soulful sound. Burhenn recently brought The Mynabirds to the NPR Music offices to perform songs from What We Lose in the Fire We Gain in the Flood.
For cellist Zuill Bailey, J.S. Bach's solo cello suites loom as a kind of musical Mount Everest. As Bailey describes it, every trip up the mountain brings a new challenge. Hear the acclaimed musician play Bach on his amazingly resonant cello, built in 1693.
Authors Dave Barry, Ridley Pearson, Scott Turow, Amy Tan, Roy Blount Jr., Kathy Kamen Goldmark and Sam Barry didn't bring any instruments to their performance at Bob Boilen's desk. But they were smart enough to bring a ringer: The Byrds' Roger McGuinn.
We were not prepared for Bettye LaVette's appearance in the NPR Music offices. We thought we were — having set up our cameras and recording gear and signed in all the friends who had heard she was scheduled to play and beaten down our door. But then she blew into the room and conquered it before she'd sung a single note.
In the calm-before-the-storm part of the day and week — 10 o'clock on a Monday morning, to be exact — reggae singer Tarrus Riley, saxophonist Dean Fraser and guitarist Lamont Savory showed up and performed three gorgeous, harmony-drenched reggae songs.
On an early winter's evening, with an acoustic guitar and lyric sheet in hand, Moby and Kelli Scarr strolled up to Bob Boilen's desk and gave a small concert. The casual affair was the duo's first-ever live performance of their brand-new Project Song creation, "Gone to Sleep."
Fredrik's new record, Trilogi, is a strange, dark concept album meticulously crafted in a studio, so there was no telling how the band might pull off its songs in a Tiny Desk Concert. With a single strummed guitar, a snare drum, a maraca and triggered odd sounds, it all came together beautifully.
Listen to any Lionel Loueke record long enough and you'll wonder, "How did he make that noise?" When the unusual jazz guitarist and his drummer showed up for a video performance at the NPR Music offices — literally with bells on — they helped answer that question.