Watch Sets from NPR Music’s 10th Anniversary Concert

December 7, 2017

As the sponsor of NPR Music’s 10th anniversary celebration concert at the 9:30 club in Washington, D.C., the Spire team was invited to attend. What a night it was.

From the crackling energy of the Kronos Quartet to the funky, confetti-cannon nightcap that Tank and the Bangas set off, it was an evening that embodied NPR Music: a multi-genre lineup, a devoted audience that couldn’t wait to see who stepped on stage next, and most of all, damn good music.

In this piece we’re sharing some of the highlights of the show, including NPR Music’s video footage of each of the sets.

Stay tuned as we publish more takeaways from NPR Music’s 10th Anniversary Concert.

Kronos Quartet: a World Premiere and Surprise Appearance

Through 40 years and 800+ commissioned songs, the Kronos Quartet has been introducing new music to the world by some of the best composers on the planet, including the likes of Steve Reich and Philip Glass.

In their opening set at NPR Music’s 10th Anniversary concert, the group shared another world premiere, "Zaghlala,” a song that was written for Kronos' education initiative, Fifty for the Future.

Along with the premiere, Kronos Quartet played a rendition of “House of the Rising Sun," a Gershwin song, and a cover of Wilco’s “Born Alone” featuring guest vocalist Jeff Tweedy (who quietly emerged from the back of the stage).

We didn’t know it yet, but Kronos Quartet’s four-song set was a microcosm of the sets that were to follow—beautifully arranged tunes, stripped-down covers, guest appearances, and a collaborative energy that carried us through the night.

Jeff Tweedy: an NPR Music Vet Plays through the Decades

It wasn’t surprising to see Jeff Tweedy play a set at NPR Music’s 10th anniversary concert. After all, he’s been a frequent performer, playing Tiny Desk three times over the years.

Tweedy started his set by reaching deep into his catalogue with “We’ve Been Had,” a song that his former alt-country band Uncle Tupelo, released in 1993.

But listening to Solo Tweedy is an entirely different experience than hearing the layered sounds of his longtime group Wilco behind him. With just an acoustic guitar and his voice, the songwriting and lyrics took center stage. In “We’ve Been Had,” a protest song against big music labels, Tweedy sang:

“Watching the label spinning on my turntable / There's no call waiting in my headphones / And every star that shines in the back of my mind / Is just waiting for its cover to be blown.”

Well aware of the sentiment each song he performed gave off, Tweedy recognized the irony of playing Mavis Staples’ song, “Jesus Wept,” (which Tweedy produced) at the celebratory event. “Thought I’d pull that song out because it’s such a big celebration,” he said with a smile, drawing a laugh from the crowd.

For his penultimate tune, Tweedy took a request from the audience. “Passenger Side” someone shouted out, a song from Wilco’s debut studio album in 1995. “That’s okay, you don’t know any of my songs,” Tweedy joked.

Rounding out his set, Tweedy played one of Wilco’s most popular songs, “I'm The Man Who Loves You," from 2002 album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

No matter what decade of Tweedy you liked most, there was something for you.

Robert Glasper & Bilal: a Masterclass in Rhythm

It was legendary bassist Jaco Pastorius’ birthday, so it was only fitting that bandleader Robert Glasper’s set began with a bass solo (a cover of Pastorius’ ballad "Portrait of Tracy") by Derrick Hodge.

But as delicate and alluring as the solo was, the set’s magic came from the musicianship—the tightness and togetherness through which Glasper and his group played. High hats shuffled, jazz chords arpeggiated; rhythms intertwined, tempos were pushed and pulled. It became clear that drummer Justin Tyson’s first language was indeed drumming.

Throughout the whole set, Bilal’s distinctive vocals soared above the complex rhythms of Glasper and his bandmates.

Bon Iver: “We are the song”

When we think of Bon Iver, we think of songwriter and band leader Justin Vernon’s powerful vocals: at times raw and gritty—at others, tender and comforting.  

His solo set at the 9:30 club, while just two songs, encapsulated the sound we’ve come to love since Vernon’s 2007 debut album For Emma, Forever Ago. Armed with just an OP-1 synthesizer and an electric guitar, Vernon started by playing his 2014 song "Heavenly Father," swaying behind the small synth pad, ducking back to the microphone to sing.

Before strapping on his guitar and playing his second song, Vernon prefaced it with a short anecdote:

“I was hanging out with a hero of mine in the last couple of days. He was like, ‘Somebody comes up to me after my show and says, you’re my hero, thanks so much for the music.’ He was like, ‘I don’t know what to say. On behalf of music, I accept your thanks.’ And that’s how I feel about music—we are the song. So I just wanted to play a song now that spoke to me over the years, so thanks so much.”

And with that, Vernon strummed his way into a cover of Leon Russell’s 1970 ballad, "A Song For You," a timely tribute to Russell, who passed away in 2016.

Margo Price: Elevated Songwriting

Playing from a balcony of the 9:30 Club with members of the audience close behind, country singer Margo price’s timely songwriting was on display. The three songs she played, "Tennessee Song," "Pay Gap," and "All American Made" showcased her lyric writing skills. In “Pay Gap” she sang to intermittent applause and shouts of agreement:

“Pay gap, pay gap  / why don’t you do the math? Pay gap, pay gap / Ripping my dollars in half.”

For Price, songwriting is a conduit for truth-telling.

Tank and the Bangas: Raising a Glass to the Future of Music

The winners of NPR Music’s 2017 Tiny Desk Concert contest won over our heart’s back in February with their ebullient blend of hip-hop, funk, and spoken word.

Saturday night was more of the same tight-knit jams.

After Tiny Desk creator Bob Boilen told the story of poring over 6,000+ submissions for their 2017 Tiny Desk contest, he introduced the band, raising a glass “to the future of music.”

Lyrics ping-ponged between Tarriona "Tank" Ball and Anjelika Joseph, and Albert Allenback’s saxophone ripped through the packed concert hall. Along with performing “Quick,” the song that landed them first place in this year’s Tiny Desk contest, the group played a cover of "Come Down" by Anderson .Paak.

Watch Sets from NPR Music’s 10th Anniversary Concert