NPR's program All Songs Considered features interviews, reviews and in-studio performances and my favourite element: host and programmer Bob Boilen attends and records concerts, with broadcast quality sound, and posts them in an ever-increasingly vast archive, and you're free to dig and dig and dig and take what you like.
Let's visit that archive. Find Artists A-Z, says the button on the menu bar.
Pick a letter. Let's go with "S."
Raphael Saadiq - 20 items (4 concerts, 2 studio sessions, 2 interviews & profiles, 3 "Discover Songs" segments, 1 news item, 4 reviews, and 6 filed under "more stories" - such as a Best of the Year segment for 2011, a SXSW preview, a SXSW recap, and a first listen streaming of one of his albums before it was released to the public), St. Vincent - 32 items, Santogold - 7 items, Ron Sexsmith - 7, Shearwater - 21, The Shins - 21, Sigur Ros - 26, The Strokes - 7, Sufjan Stephens - 36, The Swell Season - 23
Looking through their listings I realize there's much more than indie music.
Sam Cooke - 12 items, Sammy Davis Jr. - 6, Carlos Santana - 6, Erik Satie - 8, Franz Schubert - 31, Darrell Scott - 5, Screamin' Jay Hawkins - 2, Pete Seeger - 9, Sergey Rachmaninoff - 21, Ravi Shankar - 8, Sharon Jones - 19, Sheryl Crow - 8, Nina Simone - 19, Frank Sinatra - 25, Sister Rosetta Tharpe - 5, Patti Smith - 16, Stephen Sondheim - 12, Bruce Springsteen - 57, Stan Getz - 12, Steve Earle - 21 - and much much much more.
But indie rock's on heavy rotation on my various players. And it seems Bob Boilen's taste lies in that direction too.
Here are a few concerts that I've downloaded and keep coming back to.
Andrew Bird - Feb 3, 2009. He plucks and bows his violin and loops these sounds and sings and whistles and builds a musical space like something the Hubble photographed, full of colours and vastness and intimate beauty and a complexity that's as profound and simple as a circle.
Beirut - Dec 14, 2011. They streamed this live as it happened. I listened to it then and am still taken by fits of rapture listening to Zach Condon's endless creativity and inventiveness with the unlikely combination of ukulele, accordion and horns. And check out the way those horns come in in the opening song Postcard from Italy - how do they do that? How do they pack so much emotion into those notes?
Ben Gibbard - May 10, 2007. Death Cab's frontman goes solo acoustic, opening with a lesser known Donovan song, covering Nirvana on piano in the encore and giving sincere, stripped down renditions of his own songs in between, keeping it personable and humorous with the audience all the while.
DeVotchKa - Jan 23, 2009 and May 16, 2008. My girlfriend and I got into this band listening to these recordings and they've become one of our favourite acts. These Denverites started as the accompaniment to burlesque performances and grew into something else, something original, something eternal, something that screams from the deepest part of the heart and can party like nothing Studio 58 ever saw.
Laura Veirs - Mar 1, 2006. Opening for The Decemberists' Colin Meloy with a solo acoustic set, Veirs plays with presence, grace, truth and makes the strings of a guitar sound exactly like they should. She's got songs about heartbreak and songs about nature and every single one hits me like a harpoon.
Metric - June 18, 2009. They rrrrrrrock! And they can be cool. Sometimes in the same song, like "Empty" (about 37 minutes in). And I'll take the occasional flub or missed note. This is a single performance, not an amalgamation of performances from an entire tour, like live albums often are. One show. One audience. No take two. The energy of a single audience, a single shot at the set. When it works, there's a spirit that simply isn't there in the recording studio.
But these choices of mine are leaves in a forest. Explore. Enjoy.