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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2012 – A Year in the Front Row. Part One: Jan/Feb/March

So, here’s an idea I had. I go to so many damn shows, why not do a retrospective? Especially considering 2012 was easily my busiest year of gigs ever. So, here is part one of four. It’s a very brief recount of the year that was, but one I was compelled to share. Enjoy! – DJY

JANUARY

With a slew of bands still staying over from the New Year’s festivals, as well as some perfectly timed tours, my first few weeks of January 2012 were insanely busy. Within the first week alone, I’d seen old favourites Bluejuice, Italian skramz band Raein, U.S. hip-hopper Jean Grae, U.K. movers-and-shakers The Jim Jones Revue, pop-punk heroes Tonight Alive (the first of four times I’d see them this year) and mid-teen heroes The Dresden Dolls. An exhausting highlight reel of great, diverse and interesting music hanging around Sydney and Wollongong at the time.

Unfortunately, the only sour note among the lot was Jean – arriving forty minutes late on stage and proceeding to treat her fans like idiots while barely putting any effort into her rapping still ranks highly among my year’s sorest disappointments. Still, you’ve got to take the good with the bad – and, there was so much good to take.

In particular, I point to the Dresden Dolls show at the Enmore Theatre as still one of the best shows I went to this year. For two-and-a-half hours, I partied like it was 2006 and celebrated the reunion of one of my biggest high-school obsessions. Having seen Amanda solo twice before, I already had an idea of what to expect – but bringing drummer Brian Viglione into the mix sent the entire affair to strange new levels. A great one to tick off the bucket list.

Not long after that, I was headed to Melbourne for the first time ever. I had the honour of playing with former A Death in the Family vocalist/guitarist Jamie Hay – eerily enough, on Friday the 13th, the day that AditF had announced their split. He didn’t let the news get in the way of a phenomenal performance, thankfully. The weekend immediately following this show lead to my main purpose of visiting Melbourne – Sugar Mountain.

An awesome initiative from Two Bright Lakes, this night was the first of three times I would see percussive adventurers tUnE-yArDs in this month. Getting to see the delightful Deerhoof and the blistering Thee Oh Sees was the icing on an already delicious cake. The next night at the Corner Hotel, I got to see tUnE-yArDs doing her thing once again. I appreciated a total switch-up of her live set – she even started on the same song that she had closed with the day before, and vice versa! My final time seeing her was a day after returning home, at the Famous Spiegeltent as a part of the 2012 Sydney Festival. I also managed to sneak in a breathtaking set from U.K. chanteuse Beth Orton at City Recital Hall for the Festival, too. Gotta be happy with that.

Onto a far-less cultured festival, the one and only Big Day Out. I only managed to get in a single sideshow this time, but it was more than worth it. Battles shook the foundations of the Metro Theatre like nobody’s business. Having now seen these guys 4 times, I can affirm their status as mind-melting musos that you could watch individually for a set’s entirety and not get bored. That said, their MVP is unquestonably Mr. John Stanier. ‘Tis no man! ‘Tis a drumming machine! Onto the BDO itself: Highlights included the bombastic Kanye headlining set, the world-class rock & roll of Soundgarden, Cage the Elephant and My Chemical Romance and the insane celebratory dance party of Girl Talk. Despite relatively poor ticket sales, BDO was a tonne of fun.

The month finished with a quick visit to Wollongong for day 2 of the Stacked Music Festival. Although I attended almost exclusively for Sydney legends Gay Paris, there were also a few treats thrown in for good measure – local champions The Conspiracy Plan, brattish post-punks Chicks Who Love Guns and the always-delightful folk-rockers The Pennys.

TOP 5:

  1. The Dresden Dolls
  2. tUnE-yArDs
  3. Kanye West
  4. Battles
  5. Jamie Hay

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Jean Grae, plus the shitty local band that opened for Tonight Alive whose name escapes me.

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FEBRUARY

I was eased into February quite nicely by one of my favourite events in Blood, Sweat and Beers. This show would mark the first of many times I would see positive-thinking pop-rockers Milhouse, as well as sets from Canberran bong-ripping favourites I Exist, Tassie boys Luca Brasi, country bumpkins Wagons and the brilliant Harmony. With Laneway in town, I caught a sideshow for Canadian sensation Leslie Feist, although admittedly I was going almost exclusively for her support in the delightful Mountain Man. These sweet-singing ladies subsequently wiped the floor with Feist herself, who was half-an-hour late on stage and caught up in her own self indulgences too much to make this show worthwhile.

I then returned to my second home of the Annandale Hotel for three shows headlined by Michigan post-hardcore cult heroes La Dispute. These shows were just as inspiring and engaging as the very first time I saw them back in 2009, but for very different reasons. The 2009 shows were inspiring on account of an American band doing a completely D.I.Y. Australian tour that was done out a pure love for what they do as a band.

These shows were inspiring on account of seeing a relatively little-known band playing a very unfriendly style of music managing to pack out the Annandale for three shows with a huge, hungry and wildly boisterous audience. In other words, they’ve more or less arrived in Australia. We also got some fantastic local supports at these shows: Let Me Down Jungleman, Hira Hira (shout out to Jack Wotton for doing double duty!), Perspectives, Between the Devil and the Deep, Making and the late, great Animal Shapes.

Nearing the end of the month, I got to spend some quality time with some of my songwriting heroes – namely, Dan Mangan and Ben Gibbard. The former played a wondrously joyful set at Notes in Newtown, while the latter lead his band (and one of my all-time favourites), Death Cab for Cutie, into a second headlining show at the Enmore Theatre just up the road. Despite an annoying, iPhone-ready audience, I still had a great time at my third Death Cab show.

Sandwiched in-between Dan and DcfC was SoundDave, a DIY all-day festival held at another one of my Sydney “homes,” Black Wire Records, curated by Milhouse/Between the Devil and the Deep bassist/FBi radio personality/all-round heartthrob Dave Drayton. I was a volunteer for the entire day, and was so happy to be involved. Highlights including decidedly bitchin’ sets from Epics, Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt and Surprise Wasp, fronted by Gay Paris bassist Dean “Slim Pickin’s” Podmore. Top stuff.

Although I gave Soundwave a miss, I still managed to wrap up the month with two great “Sidewaves” at the Metro Theatre. The first was the final Sydney show from Thursday, a band that I will gladly admit meant a hell of a lot more to most people in that room than me. I was a late bloomer for Thursday, only really getting into them later in high school. And I was a War All the Time guy, as opposed to a Full Collapse guy, which was the album they were playing in its entirety. Even so, I came out of that show with a mountain of respect for what they accomplished in their time, and it was an honour to be a part of it. Finally getting to see Circa Survive live was also a treat.

A few days later, on a rare February 29th, I got a triple-horned hardcore treat with Enter Shikari, letlive. and Your Demise. Each put on a great set with their own style and energy, but I’d be kidding myself if I wasn’t there to get properly mental to letlive. After discovering them in mid-2011, I vowed that I’d be front row centre as soon as they toured. And so it was – I screamed, I jumped, I climbed on things and I essentially acted all of the ways a 21-year-old really, really shouldn’t. And it was GLORIOUS.

TOP 5:

  1. La Dispute
  2. Dan Mangan
  3. letlive.
  4. Death Cab for Cutie
  5. I Exist

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Feist. Sorry, babe. Maybe next time.

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MARCH

A pinch, a punch and some motherfucking MASTODON for the first of the month! Don’t mind if I do, thanks. With French destroyers Gojira and Norwegian warriors Kvelertak in tow, my brother Chris and I were treated to one of the most brutal shows I’ve seen all year. This was also the first of three shows at new Sydney venue The Hi-Fi I would attend this month, and all within a few days of one another. The very next day, I saw the delightful Ben Kweller doing his thing, while on the Sunday I’d finally get to see Manchester Orchestra live. Along with my ridiculously similar appearance to Andy Hull, I love all of their albums, especially Mean Everything to Nothing. Watching the band play “Everything to Nothing” live is one of the few gig moments from 2012 where I’ve actually teared up. Truly incredible stuff.

With Future Music Festival in town, I had yet another chance to see Die Antwoord after catching them at both the 2011 Big Day Out and at their show with M.I.A. the very next day, at which they completely blew her off the stage. Here, I found them in the illustrious surrounds of the Enmore, which was decidedly packed full of people from the Zef Side of Sydney. Despite going on late, they put on a truly fantastic show – bounding energy and a seemingly endless supply of bangers.

Next up was a return to Black Wire, to see the hilarious Battle Pope get rowdy along with Fat Guy Wears Mystic Wolf Shirt, The Reverend Jesse Custer and Jesus Christ Posse. Right there is four of my favourite heavy bands in the country, so that was more or less a dream come true. Another festival in March was Golden Plains, and from the cool streets of Portland came the femme-fatale quartet of Wild Flag. Lots of dancing to be had at their show at the Manning Bar with Love of Diagrams and impressive upstarts Unity Floors.

I’ve had the chance to do multiple shows on tours a few times this year, as evidenced back in February with La Dispute. These next two shows would be the first of two times I’d double up on some Children Collide action this year, bringing my grand total to nine times of seeing them live. For what it’s worth, they never let me down. Although the turnout for their Metro Theatre show was abysmal, they packed out the Patch in Wollongong and put on a truly hectic show for all involved.

During the final song, I decided to flip myself off the foldback and into the crowd. Half-expecting to fall to the ground, I ended up being carried all the way to the back of the venue, eventually toppling downward in-front of my bug-eyed sister, who could not believe her baby brother had just crowdsurfed like an absolute champion. Good times. Shout out to the killer supports, Deep Sea Arcade and Palms.

Nearing the end of the month, I was back at Black Wire to see two of my favourite Australian musicians, and people that I’m honoured to count as friends – Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton. I also had the pleasure of meeting Jen’s little dude, Eli. He has the biggest cheeks I’ve ever seen. I showed a world of restraint for not just sinking my teeth directly into them. Don’t tell her I said that, of course.

Oh yeah, I also saw Evanescence. The less said about that, the better. At least Blaqk Audio were pretty good.

TOP 5:

  1. Manchester Orchestra
  2. Mastodon
  3. Die Antwoord
  4. Children Collide
  5. Jamie Hay and Jen Buxton

DISHONOURABLE MENTION: Evanescence. Childhood memories tainted forever by this soulless display of mediocrity.