Saturday, 16 May 2015

10 Great Musical Performances On The Late Show With David Letterman

I've been a fan of David Letterman for almost 20 years now and on May 20th he'll be signing off for the last time and retiring. I know as far as Late Night shows go his is probably the most niche and his humour is often difficult to comprehend, but that is probably one of the reasons why I gravitated towards him. Repeating his jokes, which I found hilarious, was often met with confused looks and immediate dismissals. His show wasn't only known for his humour but also his love of music. The Ed Sullivan theatre where The Late Show makes it's home was known for many famous performances over the years, and Letterman had carried on that tradition by having artists of all genres grace the stage. I'm throwing in some favourites of mine as well, not just the most meaningful ones. Here are 10 Great Musical Performances On The Late Show With David Letterman

1. TV On The Radio - "Wolf Like Me"

With the release of their 2006 album Return To Cookie Mountain TV On The Radio were still virtually unknown on the mainstream music scene. When they got asked to perform on The Late Show it seemed obvious that they knew they had to knock this one out of the park. What followed was a high energy performance of "Wolf Like Me" and you can tell at the end that David was certainly impressed. TVOTR has been on the show multiple times since.

2. Eddie Vedder - "Black"

Not really a musical performance as an impromptu moment. Dave's musical director Paul Schaffer goads him into humming a few bars of Pearl Jam's "Black" and then asks him if wants to see how it's really done. Enter Eddie Vedder who comes from the side stage door and delivers the song's climax line much to Dave's surprise, then he bolts. Pearl Jam has been on the show multiple times and Vedder has formed a friendship with Schaffer and Letterman over the years, Eddie Vedder will be the musical act on the 2nd last show on the 19th.

3. Darlene Love - "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home)"

Darlene Love has performed "Christmas (Baby, Please Come Home) on Letterman's show every year since 1986 (except for 2007 when the Writer's Strike was going on). The performance would get bigger and bigger each year until finally in December 2014, nine days after Letterman announced his retirement, Love performed the song with Paul Schaffer's band and a choir and said she would never perform the song on any other TV show again.

4. The Heavy - "What Makes A Good Man"

English band The Heavy is another one of Dave's current favourite bands. When they first appeared on his show in 2010 and performed "How You Like Me Now?" Letterman was visibly astounded by their act. When they came back in 2012 to do "What Makes A Good Man" they stepped up their craft and Letterman allowed them to do an encore, a sure sing that he's gobbling up what you're laying down. He bestowed the same privelege on Hollywood group Vintage Trouble.

5.  Foo Fighters - "Everlong"

In early 2000 David underwent open heart surgery for a quintuple bypass. During recovery his show went on hiatus and eventually returned with friends playing "best of" clips and guest hosts filling in for him. Such guests included Bill Cosby, Elvis Costello, Jerry Seinfeld and Drew Barrymore. When Dave returned to the show on Feb 21 and among other guests (which included the Doctors and nurses who he credited with saving his life) he invited the Foo Fighters to perform. He announced them as "my favourite band, playing my favourite song". They did the show even though they had to cancel a few tour dates in South America to be there.

6.  Warren Zevon - "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner"

Another one of Letterman's close friends throughout the years was Warren Zevon. Zevon has called Letterman the "best friend his music ever had" as he had supported Zevon through his early years. In 2002 Zevon was diagnosed with terminal, inoperable cancer and on October 30, 2002 Letterman invited Zevon on his show as his sole guest. He spoke openly about his illness and reflected on life. He performed several songs which included "Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner" at Letterman's request. It would be the last song he would play on the Late Show. When Zevon passed away in 2003, Letterman honoured him by replaying his performance of "Mutineer" from the same show.

7. Future Islands - "Seasons (Waiting On You)"

Future Islands gained a head of steam after appearing on The Late Show in 2014. Their music is more dream like and electronic and doesn't give itself to a grandoise performance. Or at least that's what people thought until mercurial front man Samuel Herring became an overnight sensation for his dancing and his stellar vocal performance of "Seasons (Waiting On You)". An impressed Letterman became an instant fan and invited them back earlier this year.

8. Paul McCartney - "Sing The Changes"

In July of 2009, Paul McCartney treated New Yorkers and Letterman's audience alike with a six song set performed from above the Marquee of the Ed Sullivan theatre. His song with The Fireman 'Sing The Changes' was the one that made the air, but other songs to the set included "Band On The Run", "Back In The USSR" and "Coming Up"

9. Odetta & The Boy's Choir Of Harlem - "This Little Light Of Mine"

September 11, 2001 was a day that changed much of the Western World and arguably the entire globe forever. New York City of course felt the effect of terror and atrocity more than anyone. After about a week's hiatus The Late Show returned to air with a strange and uncomfortable energy. Many weren't sure if they were ready to laugh again, but David took it upon himself to comfort and address a scared population with intelligence, humour and heartfelt honesty. If you have a few minutes watch his opening monologue from that first show back and it might change your opinion of him. His musical guest that night was soul singer and civil rights activist Odetta along with The Boys Choir Of Harlem with a heartwarming rendition of "This Little Light Of Mine"

10. Tom Waits - "Take One Last Look"

Another of David's favourite recurring guests is songwriting legend Tom Waits. Waits' first appearance on Dave's show was back in 1983. His performances were always special, unique and inspiring and his interviews a treasure. Just the other night Letterman welcomed his friend back to the show and Tom had a surprise for him. Tom Waits had written a song specifically for Dave called appropriately enough "Take One Last Look". Who could ask for a better send off as a music lover? One of the most important and original artists of all time writes you a song. Can't say much else about it. Just remarkable,

There will never be another one like Dave.

Thanks for all the laughs!

I hope you enjoyed my humble tribute.



  1. Wonderful blog, you know we will miss Letterman very much!!

  2. Wow! Another great anthology. Enjoyed it immensely.