NPR is hip. Believe me, I have an NPR bumper sticker on my car now and it’s irrelevant whether I listen to it or not. It’s just something you do, much like how wearing Airwalks in 1995 had nothing to do with whether you were a skater or not. NPR does a good job staying on top of great music that’s under the radar of most Americans. The already great radio show, All Songs Considered, also has great online resources for music. One of them is the very creative “Tiny Desk Concerts.” I can imagine that the calm guys with the soothing, poetry-reading voices over at NPR have been dreaming about tiny desk concerts their whole lives. I’m sure they’re the guys with ear-plugs at normal concerts, and have been devising schemes since they were teenagers on how to sneak back to the sound board and turn the volume down. Let’s face it: NPR likes it a little quieter, not that there’s anything wrong with that.
It started when they invited Laura Gibson to play for their Texas NPR office in front of employees (while they sat at their desks in the office) in April of 2008, because they had missed her concert and she was on her way through town. From that show, an idea sprung. Ever since, they’ve been exhibiting great artists in a cute little NPR box, right at their office.
Most of the artists they invite fit the atmosphere, but one night, when they were probably either drunk or high, the guys at NPR had an idea. Why don’t we invite the loudest possible performer to come play in front of our tiny desks?
This is how Stephen Thompson explains the hatching of the idea in their article:
“Sometimes, an idea is so perverse and bizarre that it needs to be carried out and followed to its logical end. So once we hatched the idea to bring long-haired, wild-eyed, keyboard-pounding, sublimely over-the-top party-rocker Andrew W.K. to perform an intimate concert at Bob Boilen’s desk, there was no abandoning it. It simply had to happen.
Apparently, Andrew W.K. was into the idea and all he requested was a keyboard.
“What we got was… awkward, confusing and a little raw; so much the better. Andrew W.K. opened with two long improvisational piano pieces, performed a heavily reworked version of “I Get Wet,” and closed with a thoroughly unexpected cover of Jimmy Webb’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress.”
His improvisations go on forever, and you can just feel the awkwardness in the room. I think Andrew W.K. understood the ridiculousness of the invitation and decided to one-up NPR, not out of bitterness, but in a “touche” sort of way. And I think you’ll be surprised at how good of a musician he actually is. The final two songs are shorter and are definitely worth your time.
Also, if you haven’t watched John Darnielle perform in front of the tiny desks, it’s incredible. I love four things about his performance of “Going to Georgia.”
1. I love that he asked for a request. If you listen to the Mountain Goats you know how dangerous of a request this is. He has hundreds of songs. When I saw him in Durham a few years ago, I yelled out, “Against Pollution!” and he yelled back, “I don’t know how to play it, man!” He even had to ask someone in the audience to hold a lyrics sheet for him as he played one. It was Greg.
2. I love that it didn’t take any thought for the person to respond with “Going to Georgia.” Duh.
3. I love that John Darnielle almost knew that was going to happen. He wasn’t surprised at all. It’s the quintessential old Mountain Goats, 4-track, basement recording song.
4. I love his introduction of the song. I love that he can still belt it out while acknowledging the youthful ignorance of the song. He isn’t ashamed of it. In fact, you tell by the way he plays it that he loves it; he loves younger John Darnielle. I think I’m often too critical of younger Jon Allison, but maybe I should love him too.
This is the last of four songs. You should watch the whole thing.