i have recently admitted to myself that i feel very interested in late night talk show musical guest performances. in several situations in recent memory i've found myself recommending that people watch some of my favorite late night talk show musical guest performances, and i sometimes find new ones that i like that i hadn't seen before. during the writing of this post, i found a lot of new favorites.
i feel like, when i was a young teenager, the idea that an 'indie' band i
liked would perform on a major television channel for any reason was
exciting, surprising, and strange. this includes modest mouse performing on The OC once, that my dad told me about because he read about it in TV guide or the newspaper, maybe.
in general, these kind of performances are bad - they often suffer from sound engineering problems, or they strive to do some kind of gimmick that plays out poorly. for example, bloc party sounds really bad during this kind of performance (guitars are hard-panned with no reverb, for example) and the pixies gave a lackluster and confusing performance during which they didn't really play their own instruments, that i've seen. i've looked up performances i remember seeing live on tv and then feeling underwhelmed, later, for example with broken social scene and clap your hands say yeah.
but sometimes the performance is great, and i find myself being drawn into certain performances even if i don't know the band or the song very well. i've recently tried looking up 'top rated' late night talk show musical guest performances and noticed a lot of people referencing the same few (sometimes uninteresting/bad) examples - i don't get why anyone likes the future islands letterman performance, i was bored by the white stripes one, etc. so this is me documenting ones that are interesting to me personally.
something i've noticed, too, looking up lists of who played what shows on wikipedia, and looking up different performances, that frequently my favorite performers put on uninteresting late night talk show musical guest performances, and some acts i don't care about much (like the beastie boys) surprise me in a good way. i've also been interested in seeing bands i'd never assumed were on these kinds of shows - Hum, Jesus and Mary Chain, Cake, etc. Writing this, i found myself googling more things, reading blogs, and watching playlists. i felt surprised at how many different shows and hosts there are - randomly remembering jimmy kimmel, jimmy fallon, uh, that british guy. i felt overwhelmed at the prospect of watching like 500+ hours of late night musical performances. i also realized that snl and chappelle's shows are sketch shows, and not late night talk shows, so, like...i guess this post is kind of all over the place. not sure what i'm doing.
here is the current list:
musically, i like the vocal manipulation done live via the little pedal board on a stand, and i like how out of tune most of omar's playing is. the performance itself is energetic and involves lots of entertaining movements and eventually omar throwing his guitar and running off the stage at the end, which is very comedically-timed and entertaining still after several rewatches. i don't know ATDI's music too well but i do also like this song a lot.
the vines, i think i remember, were notoriously 'dysfunctional' because of the guitarist/singer's personality or something. i feel like this performance is probably a big contributing factor to that notoriety. i like this performance a lot because of how badly he fucks things up and how visibly frustrated the other members seem. early on, he rolls around on the floor, which, i think, knocks the guitar out of tune, so the majority of the song, when he does try to play it correctly, sounds like shit. he then fucks up his microphone a lot, rolls around some more, and really hucks his guitar at the drum kit - the drummer then seems very visibly pissed off and throws his sticks over his head and walks off. the guitarist/singer does a roll over an amp, picks up another microphone to howl for no reason, then leaves something plugged in/fucked up so there's a loud feedback squeal during the cut to commercial. something small that stuck out to me is that i don't think he's being entirely disengaged, which i noticed around 1:50, where he slows down a lot playing by himself, but follows the drummer's lead back to the correct tempo. at the very end, a stage hand comes out to switch off the amp that's emitting the loud feedback squeal. A+ television performance.
i like this one a lot because of the energetic jumping, maybe, but also i feel like it's energetic and engaging to see the beastie boys perform their rap songs live because there is always someone rapping, due to them trading off. i also like the presence and performance of dj hurricane, who, compared to the small white beastie boys jumping ridiculously the whole time, is a tall black man who stands mostly still and stares down the camera, and his verse is very well delivered. i think i also just like this song. i like maybe 4 beastie boys songs, as far as i know.
after working on this list for a while, i tried watching more random live performances, especially things form the arsenio hall show. i like a tribe called quest and busta rhymes, and i like this performance. i also like it, basically, for all the same reasons i liked the beastie boys performance, and i enjoyed (predictably) thinking in terms of musicology and influence, how it seems dumb to have thought the beastie boys were doing anything very original, especially in the context of hiphop. so i put it here, to sort of bookend that thought right at the top. in this performance, i like busta rhymes' outfit a lot, and the part where someone holds his mic so he can invert his hat. seems like a sort of needless and complex goof which appeals to me for its sincerity of spectacle. i wish there was a higher-quality recording of this one.
i loved the first DFA1979 ep and album, some of the remixes, and then very little of what they've put out post-hiatus. i think they were (are?) incredible musicians and and their production on those albums is really engaging. this performance is from that era and is interesting primarily to me because of 1) how the bassist sways while playing, 2) the drummer's outfit, and 3) the gimmick where the conan bandleader comes in to play drums. this version also has a good intro interlude that isn't on the album. i'm further always very impressed/excited by musical performances that include very few people and no pre-recorded parts.
i simply like das racist a lot and think most of their live performances are entertaining. this one in particular has a lot of effective goofs - heems rotating slowly while rapping, the reveal of kool ad's wig and subsequent playing of the piano with his head (which seems to only be plugged in for this one single goof), and dap's podium. musically, i like the delay on the snare, the digitech wammy vocal manipulation on dap's vocals, and the low bass note. also, one of the cymbal players looks like kat giordano. i do usually stop watching when the michael jackson impersonator comes out. i recommend das racist's KEXP performances, with the guy lying on the couch.
probably the only talking heads song i really like that's not on remain in light, but this is from the remain in light tour, i think, based on the live players. i really like how it's in black and white against a purple background for some reason, and i like how david byrne dances. and i like how everyone plays - very expressive, enthusiastic, and tight.
i like public enemy a lot, in general. in this performance, i like flava flav's outfit and dance moves, and i really love the early scene of the paul guy eating a big ass plate of food. i like the look of the militant-looking background dancers, and i'm always interested in rap performances that use a live band - this is a good one.
i spent some time googling for the most interesting late night talk show musical guest performances and this one came up - basically a hardcore punk show from 1976. there's a mosh pit and everything. and one point the singer/guitarist loses the mic, and so abandons his guitar to pick up the mic off the floor just in time to start singing again. they also play a few songs and it's a great performance, too - i like the saxophone a lot, and the guitarist's use of the whammy bar. enjoying sounding like an idiot who doesn't know anything about cool/punk music in writing this.
as far as i can determine, most jools holland performances are relatively free of spectacle. so this is a pretty straightforward performance, but for battles, this means it's still pretty interesting. this is my favorite version of battles and one of their best songs, even though it's probably their best-known song. i like that the performance is 7 minutes long, when usually for late night musical guest performances, long songs are cut down, and i like the emphasis on live-looping in conjunction with live performing, using multiple instruments.
ok this probably doesn't 'count' since it's not a late night talk show, but a short-lived variety show, but i still think about it frequently. there are a few interesting things about this performance: 1) that's sean lennon on one of the fattest-sounding distorted bass lines ever, 2) the drummer looks like steve burns playing a very paired-down drum kit, 3) they use the horse neigh sample to cover up the word 'fuck', and 4) i like yuka's outfit a lot. i also think they do well in spite of the large, unadorned stage, and power through what could be an awkward performance.
i'm mostly attracted to seeing wayne's really big goofy smile throughout. i feel like that's a really endearing and understandable look, like he thinks it's really funny they're playing on letterman, and thinks the song is funny, because it is. this is also just a very good performance - ronald is/was an incredible guitar player and makes just the wildest sounds. i wish he were featured more in the video footage. i'm also a sucker for distorted bass. the whole performance sounds good, full-sounding, and engaging.
i laughed a lot when i first saw this and i've since rewatched and laughed several times. it's simply a terrible performance with a really lazy attempt at spectacle, but that's what makes it charming. i like how they really have a hard time getting through a 'tv friendly' version of the song and slip up a lot anyway. i like their awkward dance moves and the poorly balanced "skrrt" ad-libs. and i like kanye's big goofy grin the whole time, especially when he proudly/comically gestures to their outfits during the 'sparkling or still' line, like saying, 'see? this is why we have these costumes on. get it? lol', and then he starts laughing while bumbling through a profanity-less version of a part about getting his dick sucked.
this isn't the one where they walk down the street. this is sabotage, played with live instruments, and is interesting to me for several reasons. i like the outfits a lot - the drummer looks like the main character from malibu's most wanted, almost identically, i think, and the bassist has a really stupid hat on and doens't move much. i like how the guitarist/singer is standing awkwardly while playing, complemented by his baggy pants. i like seeing it played live to give context to its composition - it's mostly one powerchord over a minimal bassline, but is still engaging and novel-seeming throughout. i like the live percussion mixed with dj scratching as well. feels like music that is both very dated but still very unique and stands up well.
troy james weaver linked me this one. i love built to spill and this song especially. i dont' think this performance is especially 'charismatic' but i wanted to include it simply because of how good it sounds. having three guitars live really fills it out the sound, and it sounds really on par with the studio recording. i think they're a great-sounding live band, in general, and it's good to see them maintaining that for a tv performance. i like how the guitarist in the middle looks like an angsty goth teenager, but also that toward the end, he's doing a lot of what i think wes borland would later get credit for 'innovating' with the 'divebombing' effect (which i mention in my other blog post about limp bizkit).
troy also sent me this, which isn't from a late night talk show, and isn't good, but is fascinating because it's so bad, from the vocal performance, to the lackluster bongos, to the guy wearing pajama pants: puddle of mudd covering nirvana.
this is one of my favorite arcade fire songs and i was reminded of it during the phoebe bridgers guitar-smashing controversy. i think win's guitar destruction in this performance is very effective - staring at the camera, being slow and methodical. it comes off as bleakly resigned and pairs well with the message of the song. it feels like one of the more effective protest songs you could perform on SNL and the performance in general matches it well. i feel like it is a pretty moving performance, in spite of what people think about arcade fire in 2021. also, the organ sounds good, and fills out the sound well - probably one of the best-sounding snl performances i've seen.
i remember seeing this in high school and feeling then, and still now, that the chorus of this song is incredibly powerful in its simplicity. it feels, depressingly, timeless, relevant, and unselfconscious in a way that i think a lot of people would consider bad, but i'm thankful i remembered it and went back to watch it for this. it's a great song and the performance is very effective, i think.
i'm curious to know what performances people who read this think of and have enjoyed.