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Stromae: Tiny Desk Concert

Belgian dance-pop superstar Stromae puts on one of the best live shows in the world — here's a two-song set from 2015, presented as evidence — but his stage presentation is tough to strip down. To say nothing of the light show, Stromae's throbbingly impeccable arrangements involve the extensive use of pre-recorded tracks, all of which are frowned upon at the Tiny Desk. So, given a simple three-word assignment ("no preset sounds"), his team set about re-creating Stromae's music so that it could be performed in real time.

This involved more gleaming tech than we could have ever imagined when we launched Tiny Desk concerts nearly 15 years ago — veritable banks of laptops, mixers and synthesizers, with multiple producers working out of frame — but damned if every sound in this set wasn't crafted and played live on the spot. Stromae and his team had to come a day early for hours of setup and rehearsals, and even the band's clothing was handpicked from the singer's fashion line, but what they produced felt loose-limbed and organic in the spirit of the series.

It helps that, as heard on this year's outstanding Multitude, Stromae's songs draw from a deep well of lived emotion. Backed by three members of the Bulgarian women's choir Yasna Voices, Stromae kicked off his set with "L'enfer," a wrenching acknowledgement of suicidal thoughts. The song's chorus, translated to English, reads, "Sometimes I've had suicidal thoughts and I'm not proud of it / Sometimes you feel it'd be the only way to silence them / All these thoughts putting me through hell."

From there, Stromae's song selections conveyed lighter moods, but even his most danceable tracks contain undercurrents of darkness and conflict: "Santé" is a toast to those who can't celebrate, "Alors on danse" (from 2009's Cheese) embraces dancing as a way to drown out life's hardships and "Mon amour" attempts to reassure a lover against a backdrop of infidelity and dysfunction. On its own, each track is a heady cocktail of painstaking craft and hard-won joy. Taken together, they form a portrait of a world-class showman at the height of his powers.

SET LIST

  • "L'enfer"
  • "Santé"
  • "Alors on danse"
  • "Mon amour"
  • MUSICIANS

  • Stromae: vocals
  • Manoli Avgoustinatos: keyboards, charango, vocals
  • Yoshi Masuda: keyboard, vocals
  • Simon LeSaint: drums, vocals
  • Florian Rossi: keyboard, vocals
  • Yasna Voices NY Bulgarian Women's Choir, directed by Vlada Tomova

  • Mimi Berkova
  • Larkin Grimm
  • Vlada Tomova
  • TINY DESK TEAM

  • Producer: Bob Boilen
  • Director/Editor: Maia Stern
  • Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin 
  • Series Producer: Bobby Carter
  • Videographers: Joshua Bryant, Maia Stern, Pierre Kattar, Sofia Seidel
  • Production Assistants: Jill Britton, Alanté Serene
  • Tiny Desk Team: Suraya Mohamed, Marissa Lorusso, Hazel Cills, Kara Frame, Ashley Pointer, Teresa Xie
  • VP, Visuals and Music: Keith Jenkins
  • Senior VP, Programming: Anya Grundmann
  • Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Stephen Thompson
    Stephen Thompson is a host, writer and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist and guest host on All Songs Considered. Thompson also co-hosts the daily NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created with NPR's Linda Holmes in 2010. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)