M.I.A. (and um…a bunch of people who aren’t M.I.A.) – “Born Free” (August 2010)
More of a performance art than a performance, but absolutely memorable and striking. M.I.A. is backed by Martin Rev, keyboardist for the influential synth-punk duo Suicide, whose “Ghost Rider” is prominently sampled on “Born Free.”
Future Islands – “Seasons (Waiting on You)” (March 2014)
Yeah, you probably know this one already. I think I watched it a dozen times the day after. It’s probably that this song would have gone down as one of the best of 2014, but would it have topped all those best-of lists without the bump it got from this performance? Who knows? Future Islands came back to Letterman for one more performance a few weeks ago, at it was also great.
Darlene Love – “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” (December 2014)
A holiday tradition of Letterman’s since the 80’s has been Darlene Love performing “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” from 1963’s A Christmas Gift for You from Phil Spector with Paul Shaffer and his band. Each and every one of these performances is great, and it was difficult to pick just one. However, the final performance of the song last December is as striking as any of them, and marked the beginning of Letterman’s send-off from late night television.
Sleater-Kinney, “A New Wave” (January 2015)
Even in his last few months, Letterman has continued to see a fair share of excellent music moments, both poignant (such as Eddie Vedder’s performance of “Better Man“) to barnburner performances like this, from the recently reunited Sleater-Kinney. No Cities to Love picks right up where the band left off nine years ago, and this performance shows the band at their very best, complete with Carrie Brownstein’s high kicks and an exhuberent amount of energy. As one of the last of the great Letterman performances, it’s been a high water mark for these past few months of shows.
What are your favorite Letterman musical performances? Share your picks in the comments!