SXSW Music Review: Tiny Desk Family Hour

Nine sanctified mini concerts debut a future SX staple

NPR Music’s Bob Boilen said he hoped the inaugural Tiny Desk Family Hour on Tuesday at Central Presbyterian Church would feel less like a concert and more like listening to music in your best friend’s living room. It did – good and bad.

Devotees of the beloved video concert series lined up more than two hours before the secret lineup began at 8pm. Gaelynn Lea, former Tiny Desk contest winner, opened with intricate violin looping, followed by soulful multi-instrumentalist Cautious Clay. Folkie John Paul White, formerly of the Civil Wars, and trio Mountain Man both sighed through sparse, stunning sets guided by enormous vocals. Austinite Gina Chavez skewed emotive, while emo-meets-Avenue Q Fragile Rock hurtled through manic, puppet-led absurdity.

The intensity of arty, cabaret stalwart Amanda Palmer played equal parts grim and stunning, as she hunched over a piano and reverberated apocalyptic hymnals. Fugees legend Wyclef Jean came next, his entrance eliciting shrieks. Jean worked through “Gone Till November,” “911,” and Santana’s “Maria Maria” with only a guitar and some student accompaniment, to a standing ovation. Rising hip-hop/jazz fusion master Leikeli47 closed the night, a dynamic conductor of self-love and feminism forcing the audience out of the pews and into the aisles.

Ten Tiny Desk alums were advertised, but only nine sets came through, while lags in changeover and too-long sets tacked 45 minutes onto the night. Hiccups aside, it proved a promising beginning for SXs to come, the venue’s crystalline acoustics proving a perfect setting for such diverse performers, all connected by the through line of singularity.

Tiny Desk Family Hour

Tuesday, March 12, 8pm, Central Presbyterian Church

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Tiny Desk Family Showcase, SXSW 2019, SXSW Music 2019, NPR, Bob Boilen, Gaelynn Lea, Cautious Clay, John Paul White, Civil Wars, Civil Wars, and trio Mountain Man, Gina Chavez, Fragile Rock, Amanda Palmer, Fugees, Wyclef Jean, Leikeli47

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