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7 Iconic Tiny Desk Concerts

I love concerts. Well, to be more accurate, I love watching concerts from the comfort of my own home, where I am free to shamelessly watch and rewatch as I please. While they are fun to watch, I do sometimes wish the quality were a bit better and that the individual responsible for the recording would quit screaming every 5 mins – no offense.  Enter Tiny Desk Concerts, also known as the best of both worlds. With more than 100 performances ranging from various genres and artists, Tiny Desk definitely has become a sort of cultural milestone for artists. So with that said, I think it's time we highlight some of the most memorable Tiny Desk performances to grace our screens so far.

Mac Miller

I don’t think we could move ahead without mentioning Mac Miller’s Tiny Desk. Dripping in honey, chemistry and lounge-esque background instrumentals, an intimate setting like the Tiny Desk perfectly fits his style. And the size of the stage contributes to the magic. Stuffed in a corner with his band, it enables every aspect of the performance to be received and interacted with without any big show production filters or interruptions. It all happens so quickly and smoothly you're almost afraid to blink in case you miss it. Thundercat walks in, stuns, and leaves immediately after to give room to the string quartet in “2009” and you could hear a pin drop as Mac raps earnestly some hits off of Swimming. All in all, this Tiny Desk is a testament to the simplistic beauty of both Mac and his discography.

Yebba

Released during the Tiny Desks (home) era, Yebba’s Tiny Desk is one that's lived with me since I watched it for the first time in September. From her beautifully soulful voice to her amazing background singers, this performance is one of the few that leaks into your everyday life and is completely unforgettable. What makes it so memorable are the small changes made to the songs. From the descending harmony in “Stand” – which I always add a la acapella, whenever I listen to it in the car - or the alternate bridge she adds towards the end of the song, this performance deserves a live album of its own. For 19 minutes straight, Yebba makes perfection seem absolutely natural and effortless. And if you ever happen to be in the mood for some version of a live album, I recommend listening to her Electric Lady live album.

Little Simz

Now if you combine the good vibes from Mac’s performance and Yebba’s soul, you get Little Simz's Tiny Desk. Located in a makeshift living room, the English rapper goes through a 4-song set list. While she starts out, sitting on a maroon couch, with “Introvert” she slowly warms up the room until she reaches the euphoric peak that is “Point and Kill” - this version completely annihilates the original, by the way. The second the afro beat kicks in and Obongjayar's breathy voice jumps into the chorus, with his occasional yelps accompanied by sporadic brass accents, the room truly comes alive. Following the credit intermission, Simz introduces the last song, "Woman," and dedicates it to her mother. And as she sways into the last minutes of her set, with the help of her talented backup vocalist, the song slowly expands, leaving viewers at home to bask in her second hand glow and magic.

Turnstile

I absolutely love Turnstile and I haven’t stopped thinking about this band ever since Glow On came out last year. Thankfully, the good people over at NPR Music invited the band right when my obsession sailed. In the spirit of Tiny Desk concerts, Turnstile performed a tastefully curated 17 minute set under the watchful beady eyes of John Scharbach’s wall of stuffed animals. While there isn’t necessarily a shortage of energy, the performance feels a lot more tamed than their usual mosh pit heavy shows. You can feel it in Brendan’s voice. There are these small moments where you can just hear a silver of gravel in “UNDERWATER BOI,” serving as a reminder of the band's rowdy nature. But the highlight of the show is definitely the slow and borderline enchanting rendition of “MYSTERY.”

Anderson. Paak & The Free Nationals

Earlier last year, “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” became quite popular on TikTok, almost 5 years after its initial release. Coincidentally, this Tiny Desk is responsible for triggering its second wave. Accompanied by The Free Nationals, Anderson put on a short 15 minute set of 4 songs off of his 2016 record Malibu, and it was an absolute treat.

Obviously this performance was as laid back and groovy as they come. I don't think there’s any other choice when you have Anderson. Paak on the kit. The set starts off with “Come Down” and “Heart Don’t Stand A Chance” before they take on “Put Me Thru,” arguably my favorite song on the album after “Silicon Valley.” Surrounded by talented musicians, each putting their all into a solo, Paak is sat in the middle playing what could only be compared to a percussive scat on the high hat. Each song feels like a breath of fresh air and is sure to convince you to give Malibu another listen.

Tyler, The Creator

Tyler’s Tiny Desk is definitely the most atmospheric on the list. Right after the release of Flower Boy, he graced the NPR office with his most melodic performance to date. And while he is known to not be a big fan of his singing voice, I do have to say that he did a pretty good job on “Boredom” and throughout the whole set. What makes the show is not only the music but also his overall charisma and chemistry with his band. From the back and forth that goes on towards the end of Boredom and crowd work, the experience feels a lot more intimate than his usual live affairs. Overall, Tyler’s Tiny Desk feels like a small piece in the conceptual puzzle of Flower Boy and is a must-watch for any Tyler fan.

Tom Misch

And to finish off, let’s circle back to RnB performance with some jazz-adjacent flares. Tom Misch’s Tiny Desk is definitely one for the books. While he only performs 3 songs off of his 2018 album Geography, it features some pretty sweet sax and guitar solos, which totally makes up for the short set-list. From the bossa nova-reminiscent track “It Runs Through Me,” embellished with a lovely back-and-forth between the saxophone, guitar and violin, to the sweet, tooth-worthy “Movie,” Tom’s Tiny Desk feels like an obvious choice when you just want to sit back and unwind.

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