Our Next Guests Are A Wonderful Rock & Roll Band: 20 Performances on Latter-Day Letterman Picked By a Later-Day Letterman Fan

635676571678420060-XXX-DAVIDLETTERMAN03-D01-dcb-001[1] So, it’s come to this. Pop culture as a collective is saying goodbye to a legendary talk-show host in the form of David Letterman. I’ve seen countless tributes pouring in on my timeline – celebrities and regular folk alike all have a Letterman story. I suppose I should share mine, although it doesn’t have the same weight to it as ones from my friends in their thirties and forties that quite literally grew up with the show.

I come into the picture in the 2000s. By this point, Letterman is an establishment. Appearing on that show means that you’re someone – if only for that moment. This much is especially true of the show’s musical guests, which were often the only reason I would tune in. One YouTube came into the picture, I’d often spend hours at a time down a rabbit hole with only the search term “live on letterman” to guide me. There was always such an interesting mix of artists – some well-established, some just coming through the ranks. To me, if you’d been on Letterman, you’d made it. That was your stage, your chance, your moment.

With this in mind, I’ve decided to share some of my personal favourite Letterman musical-guest moments. Please note that this is by no means a definitive best-of – I’ve picked exclusively from the last 15 years; and there is no Future Islands on account of there having been everything that one could possibly say about that performance already out there in the ether. These are just some performances that I’ve been enthralled with over the years for very different reasons. So, let’s take it away.

TV on the Radio – Wolf Like Me (2006)

I still get the exact same electricity running through me nearly ten years after this performance first happened. I shared this with EVERYONE – even people I knew that didn’t like music. There was something monumental about this rendition – it took what was already bound to be one of the greatest songs of the decade and somehow made it even greater. Can’t you just hear how David Andrew Sitek makes his guitar squeal. How Jaleel Bunton punches through those drum parts. Kyp Malone practically jumps out of his suit at one point. This made me want to be in a rock band – my rock band at the time made this cover a staple of our set. It all started – my Letterman obsession, my TVotR obsession, the whole shebang – here.

An Horse – Camp Out (2009)

We cut to the end of the decade, and it’s one of the more obscure Australian acts to have appeared on the show – a Brisbane indie band who were championed by acts like Death Cab and Tegan & Sara. It didn’t turn them into arena filling sensations, but performances like this proved that achieving something on that side of the world was still a possibility. The vibe that you got from watching Courtney Barnett on Fallon or Ellen? That’s what we were feeling when An Horse pressed the flesh with Dave.

Beastie Boys – Ch-Check It Out (2004)

I’ve tried to shy away from the obvious performances in this list, but you just can’t go past the creativity and the energy of this one. It felt like a music video brought to life, and the mile-wide grin on Dave’s face at its conclusion makes it all worth it. This dropped right in a revival of Beastie obsession for me, so it was perfect timing. Fuck, I miss MCA.

Arcade Fire – Rebellion (Lies) (2005)

There’s such an urgency to this era of Arcade Fire that Dave almost doesn’t get their name out before the begin an all-instrument avalanche. This is a kitchen-sink type of Arcade Fire – one of them is even running around the place whacking a floor tom for the fuck of it. Centred in its universe is Win, who is far from the unleashed rockstar he would become in the Reflektor era. Here, he barely moves. He’s the last to arrive at this party and the first to leave – which somehow makes him more of an intriguing prospect.

Grinderman – Honey Bee (Let’s Fly to Mars) (2007)

After years of concert halls and opera houses, Nick Cave wanted to fuck some shit up again like in the old days. Grinderman let him reclaim the mania of The Birthday Party yet keep the suit. It worked – and it resulted in one of the wildest performances on the show. Warren Ellis is playing some kind of electric mandolin while randomly smashing a hi-hat with a hammer. Cave is on the prowl, laying down organ parts and quite literally buzzing away. It’s impossible to look away.

Sparta – Breaking the Broken (2004)

At a time where fear-mongering was at a high and the American political climate was one of uncertainty for any that considered themselves creative, Sparta appeared on Letterman. Sprayed onto their shirts was the word VOTE – and, after putting everything into a performance of what I consider to be their best-ever song, it was quite clear which way they wanted you to do as such. Spoiler alert: They were not successful. At that point in time, though, it didn’t matter. It felt like anything was possible.

Beck – Nausesa (2006)

Nevermind that this is a thoroughly jamming version of one of Beck’s most underrated singles – Borat turns up! MY WIFE! Also worth pointing out that, by a complete luck of the draw, this performance shares a drummer with the very next one in the form of one Matt Sherrod.

R.E.M. – Imitation of Life (2001)

R.E.M. were legacy guests on Letterman. In 1983, they appeared for the first time and performed two songs; both of which have become seminal singles of the era. They went on to appear four more times on the show, with this being their last before they split up a decade later. The contrasts between 1983 R.E.M. and 2001 R.E.M. are centred around Michael Stipe – once an enigmatic, mumbling long-haired twenty-something; now an extrovert and a true frontman in every sense. It was the band coming full circle.

Tom Waits – Make it Rain (2004)

You must understand that I hated Tom Waits when I first discovered him. Hated him. Thought his voice was fucked and that he looked like he’d been run over. Of course, that’s exactly the same reason that I love him now. I look back on this performance that once made me squirm and see one that is all class. The addition of two-thirds of the Blues Explosion laying it down certainly helps matters.

Feist – 1234 (2007)

She may hate this song now, and may well never play it again. There was a time, though, where we all fell in love with it. For many, that came with this performance, which enlisted an all-star choir of people from The National, Grizzly Bear, The New Pornographers, Mates of State and Broken Social Scene. It’s all horns, ba-da-bas and pure unadulterated joy. You can’t help but smile when you see this one. Plus, how on-point are those handclaps?

Liam Finn – Second Chance (2007)

Two offspring of Australasian rock legends combine forces here, Liam being the stock of Neil Finn and his counterpart being one of Jimmy Barnes’ daughters. The similarities, of course, stop there – this is a psychedelically-tinged slice of indie-rock that goes into overdrive once Finn sets up his loop station and goes fucking WILD on the drums. Even a slight fuck-up makes this imperfectly perfect.

Red Fang – Blood Like Cream (2014)

I don’t know – are Red Fang considered a “metal” band? Like, are they metally enough for the Metal Club? Whatever the case, it’s always a surprise and a joy when stuff like this makes it onto network television. They hit this one out of the park, and even Paul Shaffer himself gets in on the fun by adding in some spooky organ drones. Bonus points for Dave’s sick burn at the end: “I’ll talk to your drummer about growing a beard.”

Neko Case – This Tornado Loves You (2009)

There’s this idea that if a song can still sound good through AM speakers, it’s bound to be a good song. This performance of the opening track from Case’s Middle Cyclone sounds like a masterpiece in 480p, so make of that what you will. The triple-guitar layering works beautifully alongside the four backing vocalists, which include Kelly Hogan and Lucy Wainwright Roche. Stunning, understated and a true credit to Case as a performer and bandleader.

Mastodon – Curl of the Burl (2011)

When Mastodon first came on Letterman in 2009, Dave introduced them by saying “I’m not gonna lie to you… I’m frightened” before cutting to a close-up of Brent Hinds’ face tattoo. It was a funny bit, but it was also reflective of a wider preconception about metal and the people involved in it. Seemingly, Dave got over his initial fright once he saw how awesome they were – the band were invited back two more times. This is my favourite of the three, if only for Bill having the words “HI MOM” taped onto his guitar.

LE1F – Wut (2014)

Potentially the first gay rapper to ever perform live on network television? Potentially the only? This fantastic performance from the bold and brassy LE1F was a huge moment for both LGBT and POC visibility, not to mention a massive step up in a live setting. While the MC and DJ set-up certainly works for LE1F, a full band (featuring Dev Hynes on bass) and two back-up dancers works even better.

Morningwood – Jetsetter (2006)

In 2006, I was obsessed with a band called Morningwood. I believe I was one of two whole people in all of Australia that even knew who they were. They may have been a blip on the radar to many, or simply cool by association (lead singer Chantal Claret is married to Little Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence). On this night, though, they were the talk of the town – particularly after Claret did her now-famous Matrix dance during the guitar break. Power-pop for life.

The Orwells – Who Needs You (2014)

The performance that divided the internet right down the middle. Was it a mess? Was it staged? Were they high? Was it rock & roll? Was it all premeditated? The answer, naturally, is that it’s exactly what you see. It’s what you make of it. It’s like the Vines’ infamous performance in 2002. Whatever the case, Paul Shaffer lost his fucking mind over it. You can see why.

Tokyo Police Club – Nature of the Experiment (2007)

22 didn’t seem all that far away at 17. When I realised how old Tokyo Police Club were, and I saw them on Letterman, I felt that maybe I’d know where I was going at that age. Naturally, I didn’t; and neither did they – they’ve scarcely been heard from since this peak point of exposure. It’s worth revisiting, though, both for the drummer going hard on just a bass/snare/hi-hat set-up and the entire CBS Orchestra joining in on a tambourine flash-mob. The kids were alright, weren’t they?

The National – Afraid of Everyone (2010)

The National make everything special in their own understated way, including their TV appearances. Here, they played a non-single (not to mention one of my favourite National songs) and brought out a horns section, a pump organ and a casual cameo from Sufjan Stevens. It builds up into something unbelievable – this, to me, is the definitive version of this song.

U2 – Beautiful Day (2009)

Here’s something you should know: From the ages of 8 to 24 (the age I currently) am, I was a huge U2 fan. I still am. Yep, even through some average albums and the whole debacle last year. There’s something about this band that always puts me in the exact right mood. I can’t imagine my life without a song like “Beautiful Day,” as pathetic as that seems. It’s a light in the dark for me; a crack of sunshine let into the shadows. It’s impossible for me to be unhappy when it’s on. So when U2 performed it as a part of U2 Week on the show, in which they did a song every night, I fell in love with it all over again.

On this night, Bono is determined to get the crowd up on their feet. You think it’ll happen in the first chorus. They’re still down. Second chorus. The clapping along is louder, but they’re still down. It takes until the second bridge for them to finally lift – but it’s worth the pay off. I smile like an idiot everytime I see that bit. It’s so daggy, but it reminds me exactly of what “Beautiful Day” does for me.

Thanks, Dave.

Goodnight, everybody.

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Saturday Night Live, Season 39: The DJY Awards

It’s been an interesting season for a show simultaneous described as both consistently enjoyable and a wheezing dinosaur. A major cast overhaul delivered some of the best and worst moments; and not everything that got thrown at the wall managed to stick. Even so, it set up what has the potential to be an absolutely killer 40th season of the show – and this run definitely wasn’t without its moments. Let’s take a look.

Best Host: Drake

The all-singing, all-rapping and all-Draking king of Toronto was game for absolutely anything; making his episode arguably the most consistently entertaining. His performances in the sketches were lively and he never came across as though he was too big for any part that was thrown his way. Would love to see back again.

Honourable mentions: Lady Gaga, Melissa McCarthy, Bruce Willis.

Worst Host: Jim Parsons.

Let’s ignore the fact that The Big Bang Theory is a piece of shit – this was Parsons’ chance to show us that he is, indeed, “not that guy” as he put it in the cringeworthy opening monologue song. He fell flat on his face in nearly every sketch. The episode’s only saving grace was a lush performance from Beck; who offered some brief respite.

Honourable mentions: John Goodman, Charlize Theron, Andrew Garfield.

Best musical guest: Arcade Fire.

Now that’s how you start a season. The band have never disappointed when it comes to their SNL performances, and this night was no exception. One of the best live acts in the world right now.

Honourable mentions: St. Vincent, The National, Pharrell Williams.

Worst musical guest: Eminem.

Not even a cameo from Rick Rubin could save this lifeless, blunt performance. The live band has added nothing to Em’s live sound – but, then again, Em doesn’t add very much to his live sound, either; relying heavily on guide tracks and his hype man.

Honourable mentions: Kings of Leon, Bastille, Imagine Dragons.

Best repertory player: Kate McKinnon.

It took awhile for her to prove it, but absolutely no-one on SNL right now gets as much out of so little. It can just be a look in her eyes, a twitch of her head or simply an off-hand phrase and she is away. You’re in stitches. A sharp character actor, a wicked improvise and one of the best additions that SNL has ever made to its cast.

Honourable mentions: Taran Killam, Aidy Bryant, Bobby Moynihan.

Worst repertory player: Kenan Thompson.

Oh, Kenan. You’ve had essentially nothing to work with this year, and the majority of your impressions and characters have been instantly forgettable. What’s up with that? It reminds me of Darrell Hammond towards the end – Kenan is evidently getting pretty tired. I wouldn’t be surprised if season 40 was his last.

Honourable mentions: N/A.

Best featured player: Kyle Mooney.

For every big goofy celebrity joke and pop culture reference, there has always been a few people in SNL‘s history that have thrived to keep the show weird. Kyle Mooney is one of them – and this season has been so much better for it. Highlight after highlight of bizarre, surrealist and absurdist sketches (often with partner Beck Bennett) have brought countless episodes up from good to great. When the revolution comes, Mooney will be leading the way with an awkward smirk.

Honourable mentions: Beck Bennett, Sasheer Zamata, Mike O’Brien.

Worst featured player: John Mihiser.

Oh dear. This is going to be a messy break-up, isn’t it? Look, John: You had some potential there for a second. Remember that dance scene with Lady Gaga? That was all-time, dude. But that’s one sketch out of one show of an entire year. This just isn’t going to work out. I’m so sorry. It’s not you, it’s us.

Honourable mentions: Noel Wells, Brooks Wheelan.

Best former cast cameo: Fred Armisen.

Despite only being gone for a year, Fred is just down the way from the SNL studio; working on Late Night with Seth Meyers. So any chance we get to see him again is always welcome. He provided two great cameos this season – appearing with Vanessa Bayer as Vladimir Putin’s best friends from growing up; as well as a fleeting, brilliant, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it return as David Patterson. If you saw it, you saw it.

Honourable mentions: Will Ferrell, Bill Hader, Maya Rudolph.

Best cameo: Barry Gibb.

What divine intelligence would allow for Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake to reunite for not only the final SNL of 2013, but perhaps the final Barry Gibb Talk Show ever given the death of dear, sweet Robin. And what better way to end it by getting the man himself out for a bit of a dance at the end? Sure, it was an all-too-brief moment, but I’ll be damned if it didn’t make me laugh and giggle like an idiot. Talkin’ it up forever.

Honourable mentions: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jon Hamm, Liam Neeson.

Worst cameo: Zooey Deschanel.

I can deal with Franco – he even appeared in a brilliant sketch later on this episode. Tay-Tay? Any time of the week. But there was no reason for Deschanel to show up and do her dazzled-frog look. At least she didn’t play her uke.

Honourable mentions: Robert De Niro, Sylvester Stallone, Miley Cyrus.

Best digital short: Flirty.

Mooney is finally allowed some proper cross-over with the main cast as he strikes up an exceptionally awkward romance with Bayer. Not only really, really funny; but also strangely sweet. I think that sums up Mooney’s contributions to the show really well, actually.

Honourable mentions: Dyke & Fats, Girls Promo, Boy Dance Party.

Worst digital short: Dongs All Over the World.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I love it when the ladies of SNL come together. But if I wanted that in season 39, I’d have watched Twin Bed. Not this shit. Also, who the fuck in the writers’ room was thinking “Mmm… needs more Icona Pop?”

Honourable mentions: White Christmas, What Does My Girl Say, Dragon Babies.

Best live sketch: Heshy: Career Week Speaker.

If there was an award for most underrated cast member, I’d give it to Nasim Pedrad in a heartbeat. This had the potential to be her true breakout character and it was given next to no love, apart from a small reprise towards the end of the season with a very game Charlize Theron. The timing, the movement, the accent, even the quick cuts to Mike O’Brien in character as her son… I absolutely loved this. Not a great deal came close to entertaining me nearly as much this season.

Honourable mentions: Guess That Phrase, Black Ops, Bill Brasky.

Worst live sketch: Undercover Sharpton.

Yeah… anyone want to cover this one? Any idea what in all of fuck happened here?

Honourable mentions: Murder Mystery, Oliver, Three Wise Men.

Best Weekend Update character: Jebediah Atkinson.

A star is born. This may be one of the single best Weekend Update characters of the last 10 years. Killam is consistently on fire in the role of the 19th-century critic; going all out on every one of his targets. Even minor slip-ups and ad-libs have provided some of the biggest laughs of the season. More, please. NEXT!

Honourable mentions: Jacob the Bar Mitzvah Boy, Bruce Chandling, Angela Merkel.

Best recurring sketch character: Mr. Patterson.

Beck Bennett isn’t just Kyle Mooney’s right-hand man – he’s a creative force in his own right; and that is no clearer anywhere else than when he becomes Mr. Patterson, the boss of the company with the body of a baby. His physical commitment to the role is astounding, perfectly detailed and amazingly funny. It’s such a simple idea, but one that could shape the rest of Bennett’s time with SNL. The future’s here – and it’s a big, big baby.

Honourable mentions: Ex-Porn Stars, Kimye, Shallon.

INTERVIEW: Final Fantasy (CAN), December 2008

This one’s a bit odd. I interviewed Owen Pallett twice – once via email and once over the phone. This is the first of the two, and one that I begrudgingly put together. I felt like he was really rude in his responses and didn’t give me a great deal to work with. By great contrast, by the time I interviewed him in 2010 he was really sweet and kind and thoughtful. Maybe it was just a matter of losing tone over the medium of text? I don’t know, but I felt I did alright here, given the circumstances. I still love this man like it’s going out of fashion. Apparently, he’s going to have a new record out soon. Make it so.

– DJY, July 2013

***

The name Owen Pallett on its own may not mean anything to your ears. It may, however, be a case of famous-by-association for many music fans: the Arcade FireThe Last Shadow PuppetsGrizzly Bear,Fucked Up and the Hidden Cameras are just some of the acts Pallett has worked with. He is very much the background player, rarely taking to any kind of limelight.

When he does get the time to create his own music, however, it is under the moniker of Final Fantasy (yes, after the video game). Back in 2005, as a self-described “nobody”, he quietly released his debut record, Has a Good Home. Then, in 2006, Pallett wowed critics with a baroque pop masterpiece follow-up, with possibly the most inelegant, antithetic possible title for such a work – He Poos Clouds. Just because it’s been such a long time since that record, however, don’t think for a second Pallett hasn’t kept himself occupied.

“Since He Poos Clouds came out, I’ve done [we can assume, at this point, he has taken a deep breath before continuing] a film score, three classical pieces, two Final Fantasy EPs and a 7”, and orchestral/string arrangements on 15 different albums,” he recalls of the past few years in an email response to FL’s questions. “I’ve also learned how to cook Thai food, which caused me to gain 5-10 pounds.”

Even amidst so many projects, Pallett still finds the time to tour Final Fantasy, which is making its way to Australia this December. The live Final Fantasy experience is that of a unique loop pedal system centralised around Pallett’s predominant instrument of choice – the violin. Owen claims that a former bandmate was responsible for introducing him to this distinctive layering technique.

“Matt Smith, of the band Nifty and my former band, Les Mouches, is pretty much 100% responsible for introducing me to looping,” Pallett explains. “He guided me through expanding my set-up, and his own looping shows with Nifty are a blessing and an inspiration.” He also notes that he no longer uses loop pedals. “I’m doing multi-phonic looping now,” he notes. “Lots of fun foot-tapping and amplifiers.”

Not just Pallett’s own work appears in his sets, either. Final Fantasy has also paid homage to several other acts, notably recent visitors to our shores, Bloc Party. A video of Pallett using his looping system to coverSilent Alarm cut This Modern Love has been viewed over 100,000 times on YouTube, and came about through mutual appreciation of one another’s work.

“Kele [Okereke, BP frontman] cited my first album as one of his favourites of 2005, which was a major compliment, considering I was a real nobody. I really liked Silent Alarm, so I started covering This Modern Love.” He also notes that when he finally met Okereke for the first time, the two were so nervous that they “had a stutter festival.” “Stuttering begets stuttering,” he states. “Did you know that?”

Don’t be expecting any further covers from Pallett if you happen along to any of the upcoming Australian shows, however. “There aren’t any new songs I’m that excited about,” he confesses. “I like [The Dream’s single] Shawty is a 10, but that was last summer. Besides, everybody is doing the novelty covers these days. The novelty has worn off.”

Another thing you probably won’t see Pallett do anytime soon is discuss his sexuality in depth. In an interview with Toronto music magazine NOW back in 2005, he stated in passing that being a homosexual, and even identifying as a queer artist, did not necessarily equate to “gay” music and/or themes. “As far as whether the music I make is gay or queer? Yeah, it comes from the fact that I’m gay, but that doesn’t mean I’m making music about it,” he ruminated to writer Sarah Liss. A request for him to reflect on this mindset at this stage in his career, a few years down the track, surprisingly, leads to a dead end. “No answer for this,” he says, before dubiously adding: “I’m not interested in  ‘gay.’”

Regardless of what the man may be currently interested in, one can safely assume that his upcoming shows (which includes an appearance at the Meredith Music Festival) will be some of the most talked-about of the festival season. Don’t miss your chance to see one of the great young minds of modern music at work.