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.

Top 50 Albums of 2014, Part Two: 40 – 31

He’s at it again! Part one is here ICYMI.

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40. Modern Baseball – You’re Gonna Miss It All
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

There’s an endless stream of great lyrics that flow through Modern Baseball’s second album, but perhaps its most telling moments come through its asides, its mumbles and awkward fumbles. “Yeah… about that…” comes with awkward pauses on ‘Fine, Great,’ while the line “I could not muster the courage to say a single word” practically falls over itself in ‘Apartment.’ It’s an awkward and uncomfortable record, but in a way it has to be in order to convey the dissatisfaction and blank, distant gazes that come with such sighing honesty among its smart pop-punk and understated alt-rock. Whatever forever.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Two Good Things, Notes, Your Graduation.

LISTEN:

39. DZ Deathrays – Black Rat
Spotify || Rdio

With the wizardry of Gerling alum Burke Reid guiding them, Brisbane’s finest party-starters maintained the rage on their all-important second album. It’s worth pointing out that there was far more to the album than what was presented on surface value: While DZ kicked their boots into several slices of snarling garage rock, they also found themselves slowing to a crawl and exploring the possibilities of more than one guitar – let’s try a half-dozen. Why not? Black Rat is the sound of a band expanding their empire, refusing to be either restricted or defined by what’s previously been laid out.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Northern Lights, Reflective Skull, Gina Works at Hearts.

WATCH:

38. Jane Tyrrell – Echoes in the Aviary
Spotify || Rdio

A supporting player that has had people begging for a lead, Jane Tyrrell is regarded as one of the finest vocalists to emerge out of Australia’s hip-hop community. Here, she takes those lessons learned and breathes fresh life into them. Assisted by a stellar team of producers and multi-instrumentalists, Tyrrell revels in deep, dark secrets; conveyed with the kind of sorrow that can only come from raw-nerve connections to every last lyric. At once breathily intimate and unreachably distant, Echoes is the sound of an artist taking flight for the very first – and certainly not the last – time.

THREE TOP TRACKS: The Rush, Echoes in the Aviary, Raven.

LISTEN:

37. Mere Women – Your Town
Spotify || Rdio || Bandcamp

The bloodline of Mere Women runs through DIY punk, indie rock, basement electronica and warehouse post-punk. It fits in everywhere and nowhere at the exact same time; such is the nature of its genre traversing and integral versatility. Truth be told, there’s very few bands that quite match what it is that Mere Women do, and that’s never been more the case than on Your Town. Each note feels cacophonous, cold to the touch and bristling with anxiety and defeat. It all falls into place, painstakingly detailing what happens when things between people disintegrate into nothing at all. Truly jawdropping.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Our Street, Golden, Home.

LISTEN:

36. Outright – Avalanche
Bandcamp

There is no band in Australian hardcore right now more important than Outright. There is no band in Australian hardcore right now that will sit you down, shut you up and give you the severe reality check that you need the way Outright will. No album in Australian music this year was able to encapsulate such fury and such authoritative defiance like Avalanche did – and in such a short amount of time. How much more evidence do you need in order to see Avalanche as a milestone for its scene and its genre? Do we have everybody’s attention now?

THREE TOP TRACKS: A City Silent, Troubled, With Your Blessing.

LISTEN:

35. Megan Washington – There There
Spotify || Rdio

What kind of year has it been for Megan Washington? It’s all out in the open now. Everything. She’s publicly confessed to having a stutter, told all about a failed relationship that even had a wedding on the cards… hell, she’s even performing under her full name now. The details are not spared on There There, and its seemingly-cathartic release benefits both her and those that have always perceived her to be an excellent and important songwriter. This is Washington’s single best collection of songs, and those that investigate its innermost secrets are the ones that will be rewarded greatest.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Limitless, Marry Me, My Heart is a Wheel.

WATCH:

34. St. Vincent – St. Vincent
Spotify || Rdio

It doesn’t matter if it happened when she dropped her debut, when she teamed with David Byrne or even when she stole the show during SNL: You’ve fallen in love with Annie Clark. As St. Vincent, she has been responsible for some of the most arresting, envelope-pushing art-rock this side of the century. Not only was this reaffirmed on her self-titled LP, it showcased some of the finest examples of it. Whether she’s shredding with the flair of an 80s metal star or tiptoeing around delicate arrangements with the grace of a ballerina, the love affair remains in full swing.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Digital Witness, Bring Me Your Loves, Birth in Reverse.

WATCH:

33. Tiny Ruins – Brightly Painted One
Spotify || Rdio

Hollie Fullbrook may be a particularly quiet artist, but there’s a certain je ne sais quoi about her that will stun you into silence. She’ll be recalling a specifically-detailed story from her childhood at one point, falling helplessly in love with a nearby worker at another. What ties it all together is both Fullbrook’s knack for stunning melodies and impeccable, tidy arrangements incorporating warm horns, pinches of strings and her exceptional rhythm section. Brightly Painted One deserves to be seen, heard and known.

THREE TOP TRACKS: She’ll Be Coming ‘Round, Me in the Museum, You in the Wintergardens, Ballad of the Hanging Parcel.

LISTEN:

32. Slipknot – .5: The Gray Chapter
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

It was always going to be driving a hard bargain in order to make people care about Slipknot again. Six years have passed since their previous record, a tragic loss almost ended the band entirely and perhaps their best-known player exited the fold permanently. It’s either on account of this or in reaction to it, but The Gray Chapter is an album that overcomes every obstacle. It’s an album that makes the impossible possible, pounding its fists through the coffin and rising up to complete unfinished business. It’s the sound of a band who won’t go down without a fight.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Custer, Sarcastrophe, The Devil in I.

WATCH:

31. J Mascis – Tied to a Star
Spotify || Rdio || YouTube

On paper, an acoustically-oriented record from one of the most prominent, inventive electric guitarists of the past 30 years would appear to be fruitless, confusing and counter-productive. One pities the fool, of course, who would ever think to doubt or question the motives of one Joseph Donald Mascis, Jr. Whatever style of music he lends his formidable songwriting abilities to, the Dinosaur Jr. mainstay is sure to make it a worthwhile endeavour. Star marks his strongest solo album, delving into Nick Drake-esque introspect and sweetly-soft falsetto. It betrays what you know him best for, making it all the more fascinating.

THREE TOP TRACKS: Every Morning, Me Again, Wide Awake.

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INTERVIEW: Cannibal Corpse (USA), April 2012

I love the contradictions, paradoxes and contrasts that are omnipresent in the world of music. Here’s one: one of the nicest bands you’ll ever interview is Cannibal Corpse. Yeah, the “Hammer Smashed Face” band. Those guys. Yeah, they’re the most chill fucking dudes out. No kidding! I get into that a bit with the opening paragraph, but you’ll totally see what I mean. I really like this feature; I think there’s some good insight into the band and the semantics behind what it means to be a horror-oriented death metal band. 2012, for me, was a time where I was starting to really come into my own as a writer – looking back on it, anyway. See what you think.

– DJY, October 2014

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Degrees of contrast often come in rapid succession between what an artist portrays through their work and what they are actually like in real life. That folk singer calling to an end to the war? He probably only heard about it yesterday and couldn’t care less. That rapper claiming that your arse will have caps busted into it? Never used a gun in their life. Conversely, that guy in the death metal band, jamming out numbers about necrophilia, chopped up bodies, zombies and horrific murder? Laid back, charming, funny and intelligent.

At the very least, such is the case with Cannibal Corpse. It’s a band that means so many different things to so many different people, ranging from the pioneers of a bullshit-free, enraged death metal sound to the scourge of society. It’s something that Pat O’Brien – the lead guitarist of the band from 1996 onwards – is more than aware of. Hell, it’s probably something that he embraces. Speaking to the AU Review on the line from Tampa, Florida in-between European and North American tours, he vents a frustration at the band’s misrepresented public image and the double standards within mainstream society that turn them into the villains.

“I think only a few people really want to bring that up with us anymore,” he says. “I think Alex [Webster, bass] would be the first to say that, as far as politics go, we’re not a political band. It’s just metal. The shit that I see happening on TV every day, and the shit I read about? We’re nowhere near as creative as some of the fucked-up shit that happens in real life. Take September 11 – if someone made a movie about that, everybody would walk out thinking that it was a crock of shit, that it would never happen. And then it did. It blows you away, the stuff that happens in real life. You can go and buy German porn – scat videos or whatever the fuck – but you don’t want to stock and sell Cannibal Corpse CDs?”

Our discussion turns to the hypocrisy of individuals that read Stephen King novels or listen to murder ballads that attempt to portray the band as vile, inhumane or demented. “We write fictional stories in our songs,” O’Brien explains. “If anything, they should censor the news. Nobody ever brings up movies, either – you make a movie about zombies, it’s totally fine. But if you’re writing a song, it’s like you’re raising a flag to it; singing a national anthem about violence or something. We’re not preaching anything. We’re just writing lyrics about basically nothing.”

These songs have been seen through the cracks of mainstream culture, from the band’s cameo appearance in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective to a lounge version of their song being played by Andrew Hansen on The Chaser’s War on Everything. For the most part, however, the band have stuck to making music for their extensive cult fan-base, who flock to see them across the world in the thousands. Their latest effort, Torture, is their 12th studio album, and their first since 2009’s Evisceration Plague. Ever the critic, O’Brien looks back on the record with mixed feelings.

“I thought it was a good album,” he says. “I think it was something that we needed to do in order to get to the point that we are now with Torture. It was the first time that Paul [Mazurkiewicz, drums] had played to a click track. I dunno, I still think it’s a really good album; but it seems like it was maybe a little stiff at times. This one feels a lot better to me.”

So, where does the difference lie between the band that made Evisceration Plague and the band that made Torture? As Pat reveals, it was a matter of a freshly democratic songwriting process and a clearer, more focused mind going into the album’s creation. “I wrote more songs on this record, and so did Rob [Fischer, vocals],” he says. “With Evisceration, it was Alex – he just had an abundance of material written. He’s like a writing machine. That was a weird time for me – I was moving, and I had a lot of personal shit going on; so I was having trouble writing riffs. This album, though? I was the first person to write for this record. I wrote ‘Followed Home, Then Killed’ and ‘Torn Through’ before we’d even started the writing process collectively.”

O’Brien explains that this new hunger to write would often stem from extensive time on tour which was not spent on the stage. “When we tour, the only thing for me to do, really, is play guitar,” he says. “It’s either that, or drink all night and feel like shit the next day. Even though it’s fun to be out on tour, and see and do all these things, you still have a lot of downtime. It’s a game of “hurry up and wait” – like, wait around for hours, all day, just to play. I can’t do that, man. Give me a guitar. Let’s get some songs in the bag.”

Of course, letting things unfurl naturally lead to some obstacles in the creation process of Torture. O’Brien received the opportunity of a lifetime when one of the band’s biggest influences called upon Pat’s guitar work. As he explains: “I got the call from Slayer to fill in for Gary Holm. That kind of threw things off in the writing process, but it’s not every day you get called up to do that. I’m not sure, exactly, how it came about. I think there were just some recommendations from different people, and I guess I must have been the only one available to do it at the time. It was about a week-and-a-half to learn all of the songs – a lot to learn in a short period of time. With the whole metal community watching these massive shows… it was just intense.”

He goes on to explain the difficulty of learning another band’s entire setlist in such a short period of time. “I knew a lot of the Reign in Blood stuff, but I hadn’t sat down and tried to play those songs for years,” he says. “The only time when I would have really been trying to play them was when I was giving guitar lessons back in the day. I don’t really play other people’s stuff, y’know? I just kinda do my own thing. It was definitely a challenge, for sure.”

This year marks the sixteenth year that O’Brien has been a part of the band. While many older artists feel as though their youthful days best reflected their love and passion for music, O’Brien feels that moving into his forties has allowed him to grow even more engaged with the band and their music. “I think it’s actually gotten better now,” he says on the motivation to create new material. “Like, back in the day, I wouldn’t be able to come up with anything – I’d pick everything apart so damn much that it would kill the idea that I had initially come up with. I’m at a period right now where I don’t totally do that. I’m able to kind of write what I feel and not be so uptight about it.”

He concludes with a positive appraisal of where Cannibal Corpse are currently at – even with nothing to prove, they still strive for excellence within their work. “We always want to make the best album that we can make,” he affirms. “If there’s one thing that I can honestly say, it’s that we are a band that constantly improves in one form or another from our past albums. I really believe that. Some bands, they come out with one or two great albums and then it gets to the point where nothing they do compares to their older albums. I think we’re the opposite. I think our albums keep getting better and better.”