July 29, 2019 | Stephen Thompson -- Lots of musicians cut corners during sound check. It's a time to make sure everyone's in tune and in balance, everyone's blocked properly for the cameras, and every piece of recording equipment is doing its job the way it's supposed to, but it's not as if anyone's rolling tape for posterity. Sometimes, Tiny Desk artists do their sound check in shabby street clothes before ducking into the green room to don their fancy performance wear. It's standard procedure, and no big deal at all.
But from the second Lizzo entered the room, fresh off a long interview with Fresh Air's Terry Gross, she was on: all charm, vibrant and gracious, dressed to the nines and ready to sing her face off. In rehearsal, Lizzo belted out "Cuz I Love You," the title track from her wonderful new album, with nothing off her fastball; if you were standing six feet away at the time, you'd swear the gale force of her voice was blowing your hair back. She was the star and the mayor rolled into one, at once ingratiating and commanding, as an audience of maybe 25 milled around and prepared to let in the crowd.
Once we opened the room, there were as many people as we've ever had at a Tiny Desk concert, hanging on Lizzo's every word as she held court and waited for the cameras to roll. She literally needed no introduction; one of us usually says a few words and gets the crowd to applaud for the start of the performance, but Lizzo was master of ceremonies from the second she walked in. Naturally, she needed all of two seconds to blow everyone's hair back once more.
Everything around the singer must have felt alien to her, starting with "this tiny-ass desk" and continuing through the crowd — perched mere feet away, with only a bit of office furniture and a few cameras as a barrier — and a backing band assembled, at Bob Boilen's request, just for the occasion. Lizzo usually performs with dancers and a backing track; the former, though much-missed here, stood in the crowd and bobbed along, while the latter got mothballed in favor of slyly funky arrangements. Together, Lizzo and that brand-new band preside over three songs from Cuz I Love You: the aforementioned title track, "Truth Hurts" (so winning, in spite of its repeated references to the Minnesota Vikings) and the literal and figurative show-stopper, "Juice," which gave her the opportunity to pick up the flute she'd been waiting the whole set to bust out.
"Cuz I Love You"
Lizzo: vocals, flute; Devin Johnson: keyboard; Dana Hawkins: drums; Vernon Prout: bass; Walter Williams: guitar
Producers: Bob Boilen, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, Beck Harlan, Bronson Arcuri; Associate Producer: Bobby Carter; Photo: Claire Harbage/NPR