How much do we lose?
OK, this is probably the wrong question to ask a devout non-TV watcher. Sitcoms, dramas, reality TV … sorry, it’s too tough to sit still. Besides, The Wire, Taxi, Barney Miller, Johnny Carson and Cheers are off the air.
What’s the point?
That’s especially the case now that Letterman is finished. Frankly, it was a perfect show. It had it all, complete with solid interviews, sketch comedy, jokes and jokes and jokes, and, of course, music …
Lots and lots of music.
Maybe what made the Letterman Show so perfect was the music. It was the cornerstone of the show with Paul Shaffer’s band to the nightly guests. What could be better than a ripping house band that can play every single song worth playing as well as a different live band playing something new every night?
Some nights, the band saves the day. Maybe the guest isn’t interesting or the comedy a little lacking … at least Shaffer’s band and the musical guest are there to deliver. Better yet, Dave often broke bands that would otherwise be ignored simply because he liked them. He wasn’t afraid to book bands that rocked or we’re avant garde or whatever. As a result, other late-night shows followed Dave’s lead.
And lucky for us because there’s nothing like live music. Mix it with Letterman’s sensibility and comedy and it was the perfect TV show.
Anyway, here are the best music performances that stuck with me over the years. Some are on here simply because I like the artist. Others are here because I find myself thinking about them from time to time for whatever reason.
So, here we go … (not in any particular order)
1. James Brown
Last week I was in the audience for the show and Paul Shaffer told a great story about the Godfather of Soul visiting the show. Though this one isn’t up to the level as James Brown doing 45 minutes on Soul Train in 1974, it’s pretty damn good:
2. Letterman and Nugent
I met Ted Nugent at the 2000 Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. He was funny and cool, which made him stand out in that crowd. Funny goes far in my book. The Nuge is funny in this one:
3. Joe Strummer
Joe died not too long after this appearance and it could be my favorite of the bunch. The performance is right on the money, especially when Joe tosses his Telecaster to his guitar tech, and the song is beautiful. It’s also a bit melancholy because Joe is gone … we could sure use some more of Joe these days.
4. Beastie Boys
Surprisingly, no other group pulled off the street/studio performance before this one. But if it was going to go down, the Beastie Boys had to do it. And, of course, it may be Adam Yauch’s last appearance before his fatal cancer diagnosis …
5. Foo Fighters
When Dave came back from his bypass surgery, he requested the Foo Fighters perform at his first show back. So the band stopped their tour in South America, flew to New York, played the song and went back to South America.
6. Red Hot Chili Peppers
Here’s an oldie from the NBC days. The story here is I saw the band the next day in Philadelphia at the Chestnut Cabaret. It was an over-21 gig and I was only 18 … yep, we snuck in the backdoor and saw a pretty great show.
7. Bruce Springsteen
This is the last performance from Dave’s NBC show. It’s a bit of a middle finger to a company that didn’t treat Dave very well. I like it.
8. Pearl Jam
This is a Bob Dylan eff you song. Dylan’s version is better, but it’s fun to see it on corporate television.
9. Bob Dylan
Bob isn’t particularly good in this one, but the band is as hot as they come. Plus, the whole 10th anniversary episode was terrific. I wore out a VHS recording of it.
10. Warren Zevon
Warren Zevon is one of those artists that a lot of people would have missed if it had not been for Dave. He filled in for Paul Shaffer a handful of times as the leader of the band and when Warren had terminal cancer and was dying, Dave gave him a week-long residency on the CBS show. This is his last performance a few months before his death …
11. Bob Mould
This is one went down last month and it already is an all-timer. Word is, Bob’s band — Jason Narducy and Jon Wurster — knocked the plaster off the ceiling. Yep, this one …
12. The Ramones
Joey Ramone would have been 64 today. The Ramones broke up shortly after this taping …
13. Sex Pistols
Imagine the Sex Pistols on corporate TV in the ‘70s or ‘80s … it wouldn’t happen. When they put together the original lineup and went out on the road, a stop on Letterman was mandatory.
14. Amy Winehouse
A lot of talent here. Prophetic, too.
15. Sonny & Cher
Only Dave could get a divorced couple to sing a song on his show.
If you grew up watching Johnny Carson in the late 1970s, there were certain celebrities that made you sit really close to the TV set. Don Rickles was one and Richard Pryor was another. They were unpredictable and wild. But a notch above Rickles and Pryor was Liberace.
How do you describe Liberace?
If you didn’t see it, you missed it. Liberace was a piano player, I guess.
Watch and figure it out for yourself …
17. Bill Murray
Here’s Bill’s homage to Liberace:
And here’s Bill from the very first episode of Letterman’s show at NBC:
From first to last … how will Bill close it out?
If only Dave stuck around long enough for The Sophisticates to make it ...