Third Coast Percussion breaks it down in NPR's Tiny Desk concert

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Third Coast Percussion performs for NPR's Tiny Desk concert. NPR

Back at the beginning of time, the human voice was the very first instrument. Probably close in second place were folks banging on stuff — in other words, percussionists.

The quartet of gentlemen who form the Chicago-based Third Coast Percussion takes primordial pounding into a completely distinctive new league. To be sure, in this Tiny Desk performance, they'll play their sophisticated, modern marimbas and vibraphones, but be on the lookout for the subtleties of tuned cowbells and ¾-inch galvanized steel pipes, like those found at the local hardware store. Add to that a glockenspiel, a MIDI synth, a melodica, a drum kit, children's desk bells, crotales, a Thai gong and a singing bowl, and you've got significant noise-making potential behind Bob Boilen's desk.

The mesmerizing opening number, "Niagara," written by the group, is from the band's latest album, the aqua-centric Paddle to the Sea. This water is fast-moving, with pulsing, repeating patterns in the vibraphone, punctuated by drum beats and a bed of low synth. The Third Coasters follow with another from the album, their own arrangement of a slowly rippling ode to the "Amazon River," by Philip Glass. Beginning with droplets on the glockenspiel and evocative bowing of both vibraphone and crotales (small bronze discs), the music flows softly, taking its time to fan out in all its quiet beauty.

"Torched and Wrecked" is, as David Skidmore mentions, something that once happened to his band mate Sean Connors' automobile. It's also a butt-kicking ride that includes those steel conduit pipes, which the band cuts to specific lengths to get the desired pitches. Skidmore wrote the piece, but it's Connors who appears to achieve a kind of cathartic glee pounding on the metal tubes.

In these performances, the musicians prove that there's far more to a top-notch percussion ensemble than pounding on stuff. The precision and the subtlety of their soft tapping, bowing and conjuring of otherworldly sounds raises this ancient art to the highest level.

Set List

"Niagara"
"Amazon River" (Phillip Glass)
"Torched and Wrecked"

Musicians

David Skidmore, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, Sean Connors.

Credits

Producers: Tom Huizenga, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Nick Michael, CJ Riculan; Production Assistant: Stefanie Fernández; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR.

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