Not long ago, I stumbled upon a video of Gnarls Barkley singing a down-tempo, mellowed-out version of Crazy. It was so heartfelt and intimate – the version showed me a side of the song I hadn’t seen before. That was when From the Basement first got my attention. When I discovered the long, impressive list of artists who have already been on the show (Radiohead, The White Stripes, Foster the People, The Raconteurs, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Feist, The Shins, Andrew Bird, Fleet Foxes – I would love to go on), I became a believer.
For music lovers who enjoy live or acoustic versions of songs, there are several different sources producing great versions of our favorite tracks. NPR has their studio sessions, Big Ugly Yellow Couch provides performances by up-and-coming bands, and so on. From the Basement started as a podcast, but grew up quickly into a TV show streaming on Crackle and DirecTV’s 3-D channel 3net.
Nigel Godrich, the visionary music producer most famous for his work with Radiohead, takes the helm in this endeavor. Since its humble beginnings in 2006, transition into a UK Television show in 2007, and on into the present where season 3 is being broadcast in HD in 2-D and 3-D, Godrich’s intent has been to “authentically document the pulse of music being made today.” In a recent interview with Entertainment weekly, Godrich says, “I think what happened was MTV came along in the ’80s and destroyed the way that people film music on television. The performance ended up in the edit, and it wasn’t very direct. It’s a selfish thing, really—as a music fan, I really wanted to see people performing on television, so we went ahead and did it. Musicians hate doing TV because it’s such a different world and a horrible environment for them, so wouldn’t it be cool for me as a music person to do a TV show? Then I could get something out of them that TV shows wouldn’t get.” To that end, Godrich uses an intimate basement setting with no audience (except a few HD cameras), making the artists as comfortable as possible to get the best, purest performance possible.
It’s like PBS’s Austin City Limits, but better.
The thing I appreciate most about From the Basement is that it displays the great musicianship of the artists in a way that hyper-produced studio recordings and blasting live performances cannot. You get to hear and see in stunning detail just how soulful a singer Cee-Lo is, or how beautifully blended Fleet Foxes’ harmonies really are. There’s no Auto-Tune, no backup tracks, and absolutely no lip-syncing – just pure performance chops at work. From the Basement is quality proof that there are wonderfully talented artists making great music today.