Smokey Robinson, Nile Rodgers, The Smile: The Best ‘Tiny Desk Concerts’ Of 2023

Also watch Soccer Mommy, Christian McBride, Charley Crockett and more perform for the beloved NPR Music series.

By Nate Todd Dec 22, 2023 3:00 pm PST

It was an eventful year for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert, created by NPR Music’s Bob Boilen who retired on October 2. 2023 was also the beloved performance series’ first full year back behind Boilen’s desk following the pandemic and saw some big names come to NPR Studios to perform along with talented up and coming artists. Here at JamBase we wanted to look back at 10 of our favorite Tiny Desk Concerts of 2023.

The Smile

Although filmed in 2022, The Smile was the first Tiny Desk Concert released in 2023. The band consisting of Radiohead’s Thom Yorke and Jonny Greenwood along with Sons of Kemet drummer Tom Skinner and touring saxophonist Robert Stillman offered songs from their 2022 debut studio album, A Light For Attracting Attention. The band even played Boilen’s favorite tune, as he wrote in his article accompanying the performance.

“The set ends with my favorite song, “Skrting On the Surface,” and we hear the vocals, guitar, bass and drums weaving so perfectly with lyrics that remind us how fragile our lives are and for me how these magical moments can be transcendent.”


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The Smile (See 4 videos)

Soccer Mommy

2023 finally saw acclaimed singer-songwriter Soccer Mommy (Sophie Allison) making her in-person Tiny Desk Concert debut. Allison was scheduled to make her Tiny Desk premiere on March 30, 2020 but the world had descended into the grips of COVID-19 lockdowns. As such, Soccer Mommy was the first to record a Tiny Desk (Home) Concert. Sophie was naturally excited to perform at Bob Boilen’s desk in person, “We’re finally doin’ it,” she said during her career-spanning performance, which opened with “Shotgun” from her 2022 album, Sometimes, Forever.


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Soccer Mommy (See 33 videos)

Indigo Girls

Speaking of career-spanning sets, legendary singer-songwriting duo Indigo Girls, along with violinist Lyris Hung, graced Bob Boilen’s desk in 2023. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers kicked off the concert with “Closer To Fine,” “arguably the singalong song of the ’90s,” as per NPR’s Ann Powers. Released in 1989, the anthem was a centerpiece in 2023’s Barbie movie. Indigo Girls also touched on songs their latest album including the title track, “Look Long.”


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Indigo Girls (See 34 videos)

Charley Crockett

If you like old school country and western music then Charley Crockett is your Man From Waco. Actually born in San Benito in South Texas, the prolific singer-songwriter with an amber baritone bought songs from his album The Man From Waco and more to Tiny Desk Concert in 2023, opening with the title track.

“In his version of a murder ballad, ‘The Man from Waco,’ he dwelled not on the ruthless act committed, but the psychological turmoil radiating from it,” NPR’s Jewly Hight wrote. Charley is accompanied by Kullen Fox on piano, trumpet, guitar, vocals.

Bono and The Edge

Some bonafide superstars delivered Tiny Desk Concerts in 2023, among them U2 legends Bono and The Edge. The Irish rockers’ Tiny Desk was released on St. Patrick’s Day, the same day U2’s album Songs Of Surrender arrived.

When the vocalist and guitarist performed cuts from Songs Of Surrender — an album of stripped down tunes from across U2’s catalog — for Tiny Desk it was a preview of the record for those in attendance at NPR Studios. The duo also welcomed the Duke Ellington School of the Arts Choir for the classic “Beautiful Day” and more. Additionally, Bono and The Edge delivered deeper tracks including an emotional take of “Stuck in a Moment You Can’t Get Out Of,” penned for the late INXS singer Michael Hutchence, and a reworked “Walk On” dedicated to the people of Ukraine.


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Bono (See 2 videos) and The Edge (See 3 videos)

GWAR

Intergalactic monster metal lords GWAR invaded Bob Boilen’s desk in 2023. Their Tiny Desk Concert debut had been four years in the making, as NPR’s Lars Gotrich explained:

On Feb. 15, 2020, a parody news site ran the headline: GWAR asks NPR’s Tiny Desk Staff if They’re Ready to Get Their A******* Ripped Open.” My text messages suddenly blew up. Is this real? No, it’s literally fake. Can this be real? Little did they know I’d already been talking to one of the group’s underlings since 2019 to bring the Scumdogs of the Universe to the office of seltzer and sensibility.

The delightfully raunchy theatrical monsters from space — Blöthar the Berserker, Balsac the Jaws of Death, Pustulus Maximus, Beefcake the Mighty and Jizmak Da Gusha — offered songs from across their catalog including opener “Sex Cow,” off 1997’s Carnival of Chaos, as well as “Ratcatcher” from their 2022 LP, The New Dark Ages.


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GWAR (See 3 videos)

Cypress Hill

Hip-hop was well represented on Tiny Desk Concert in 2023. Topping the list of the performers in the genre who came to Bob Boilen’s work space was legendary group Cypress Hill. NPR’s Bobby Carter set the scene:

The first thing I noticed as Cypress Hill strolled into NPR headquarters was Sen Dog cradling his signature bucket hat. I asked him if my assumptions were correct; it was indeed the original hat seen in all the videos from the early ’90s. Before I could process that confirmation, B-Real asked me, “Yo, is your greenroom a greenroom?” We got everything we expected and more from Cypress Hill at the Tiny Desk.”

Sen and B-Real were joined by touring members Eric Bobo and DJ Lord as well as Money Mark from Beastie Boys fame along with a horn section for classics like “When The Shit Goes Down,” “Hand On the Pump,” “Insane In The Brain” and more.


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Christian McBride’s New Jawn

Christian McBride’s New Jawn hit Tiny Desk Concert in 2023. The renowned jazz bassist and his band — woodwind specialist Marcus Strickland, trumpeter Josh Evans and drummer Nasheet Waits — performed songs from their 2023 album, Prime, kicking off the session with “Head Bedlam,” read an excerpt from JamBase’s coverage below:

McBride — who is no stranger to NPR as host of Jazz Night In America — and company kicked off their Tiny Desk set with the aptly named “Head Bedlam,” a song that begins with a cacophonous noise making session that McBride noted was a musical interpretation of scrolling through Twitter.

Christian McBride’s New Jawn wrapped the session with “Walkin’ Funny,” off their 2018 self-titled debut album, which included a bass solo from McBride.


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Christian McBride (See 10 videos)

Smokey Robinson

Another legend who delivered a Tiny Desk Concert in 2023 was the incomparable Smokey Robinson.

Smokey squeezed a substantial ensemble behind Boilen’s desk including including a string quartet — violinists Sally Gorski and Tiffany Ibáñez-Weiss, violist Lakshmi James and cellist Camille Johnson — along with saxophonist/flutist Brandon Wright, keyboardists Demetrios Pappas and S’von, bassist Gary Foote, drummer Tony Lewis and guitarist Robert “Boogie” Bowles. Backing vocalists Lindsay Walker and Karrie Benoit-Morales rounded out the band.

The 83-year-old Motown legend’s instantly recognizable voice sounded smooth as ever on classics like “Tears Of A Clown,” “Cruisin’” and more.


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Nile Rodgers & Chic

A few months after Smokey’s Tiny Desk, yet another iconic artist appeared at NPR Studios when Nile Rodgers brought Chic to Tiny Desk Concert. Rodgers and his longtime band delivered disco, funk and soul favorites from across his catalog kicking things off with Chic’s “Le Freak.”

An in-demand songwriter and producer throughout his career, Rodgers also offered hit songs he penned or co-wrote including Diana Ross’s ”I’m Coming Out” and Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” along with Daft Punk’s ubiquitous 2014 smash “Get Lucky.” Nile Rodgers and Chic wrapped the session with a cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” the title track to Bowie’s 1983 LP produced by Rodgers.


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