Since NPR’s Bob Boilen began curating Tiny Desk Concerts in 2008, he’s noticed a pattern to the types of performances. “There are a couple of ways bands approach these things,” he says. “Some try and do what they do onstage. Others try and do something that’s stripped down. Then there’s the third way, which is ‘I’m going to [do] something I’ve never done before in front of an audience and see what happens.'”
Boilen, who has hosted All Songs Considered since 2000, rarely dislikes a performance, so pinpointing his absolute favorites since the start of the Tiny Desk series is difficult (“It’s always so damn hard to do this,” he says). However, there are a few recent performances that stand out to him, which he shared with Washingtonian in honor of All Songs Considered‘s 16th anniversary.
Moon Hooch—a Brooklyn electronic-jazz trio—caught Boilen’s attention for both their unhinged creativity (“No one sounds like this,” says Boilen) and their ability to make avant-garde music seem fun and approachable during a July 2014 appearance. “They make it all accessible by being playful using traffic cones on their saxophones,” he says.
Ryan Lott‘s music is normally based in electronics, but his set last August built up his compositions in new and organic ways; in lieu of keyboards and laptops, for instance, there was a six-person horn section plucked from off-duty members of the United States Marine Corps Band.
“Some people come to the tiny desk and try and recreate their sound,” Boilen says. “What I love is when someone completely reinvents their sound like Son Lux.”
The rising Australian star didn’t toy with her sound at all. But Boilen found her solo April 2014 performance—a year before the critically-acclaimed Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit was released—extremely genuine, especially the then-unreleased track “Depreston.”
“Her charm and her way with words in such an intimate space was unforgettable,” Boilen says.
Deacon is known for turning his live shows into elaborate, interpretive dance parties, just like the one he managed to stage at his Tiny Desk Concert last February.
“He had the staff of NPR dancing like never before,” Boilen says. “And the songs from his then-new record Gliss Riffer were his best songs to date.”
Boilen admits that the music by this Ukranian folk group was unlike anything he’d ever listened to. But their appearance last April became an instant favorite of his for the strange and exciting experience it offered. “They have an astounding sound with vocal harmonies unheard in our culture,” Boilen says. “[It was] a masterfully fun treat for the ears.”