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Top 10 Late Night Performances of 2013

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From what we gathered out of The Larry Sanders Show, it’s that, usually, the musical guest acts as filler. Well, at least in the ’90s. Nowadays, it’s sometimes the only reason to tune into late-night television. (Of course, I don’t personally believe that, having been obsessed with late night television my whole life. Have you read The Late Shift or The War for Late Night? Really fascinating stuff and it’s just so wild th– sorry, getting ahead of myself again.) That’s why so many of us on the news team — read: Alex Young — will wait around late at night to post the videos shortly after they’ve premiered on the tele. Some of them were real, bonafide events, as you’ll seen discover. So, keep that in mind for 2014 when you’re either a.) setting up your DVR or b.) flipping around before bed, possibly buzzed off something in the medicine cabinet and/or your spirits collection. Christ, when did this introduction get so personal?

–Michael Roffman
President/Editor-in-Chief/The Worst

10. Iron & Wine, Glen Hansard, Kathleen Edwards, and Calexico on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Just in time for the holiday season, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon brought in Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam, Kathleen Edwards, Glen Hansard, and Calexico to cover The Pogues’ Christmas classic “Fairytale of New York”. Beam is no Shane MacGowan, his voice lacks the rough edges and Irish swagger, making it hard to imagine him spending “Christmas Eve/ in the drunk tank.” Despite this, he works extraordinarily well with Edwards, who had just enough moxie and ferocity to land Kristy MacColl’s most biting lines. With Calexico serving as a pretty stellar house band and Hansard providing backup vocals, it was a memorable treatment of one of the best Christmas songs ever. –Josh Terry

09. Arcade Fire on The Graham Norton Show

Viewers of the UK chat show hosted by Irish funny man, Graham Norton, are not exactly used to witnessing anything quite like a black and white decked Arcade Fire performing beneath a huge mirrorball. For their first UK talk show appearance in six years, frontman Win Butler donned some Lone Ranger-esque eye make-up, framed in pink to give a surreal “sunglasses look” under the lights. “I did this so I could sleep during the interview,” quipped Butler to Norton earlier. The camerawork and lighting owe more to a stadium than a TV studio so much so that you forget Norton and guests are sitting a few meters to the band’s right. The aerial shots at the close are especially stunning. Shame the band could only run to four percussionists though. –Tony Hardy

08. Disclosure and Jessie Ware on Later.. with Jools Holland

The lack of electronic acts on …Later with Jools Holland isn’t surprising. The program is all about capturing how a band strangles the stage with cameras peering left and right to nab poses and any animated stage presence. How can a laptop operator compete with that? Disclosure’s live act avoids such stereotypes and builds live instrumentation with a smorgasbord of drum pads and acoustic drum elements. The Lawrence twins are also pretty much required to move their body, almost as if they were on the dance floor. In order to resurrect “Confess to Me”, the two brought on Jessie Ware, who brought the necessary intensity behind the podium, as if she her admonitions of love were part of a sermon. Let us pray. –Sam Willett

07. Paul McCartney on The Colbert Report

Opting to introduce himself instead of Macca (who clearly needs no introduction), Stephen Colbert asked Sir Paul McCartney about starting from scratch after The Beatles, deemed Band on the Run the album of the ’70s, and debated the pronunciation of the word “schedule” before the legend launched into “I’ve Just Seen a Face”, “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”, and “Lady Madonna”, as well as Wings’ “Hi, Hi, Hi” and “Listen To What the Man Said.” The Report appearance took place just two days before McCartney’s beyond-epic Bonnaroo set, allowing the week to further solidify Sir Paul’s title as the coolest 71-year-old on the planet. –Amanda Koellner

06. Will Smith on The Graham Norton Show

Most people nowadays recognize Will Smith as a mega movie star. But for those of us with a TV set in the ’90s, he was, is, and always will be The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Thus when Graham Norton not only got Smith to rap the show’s theme song, but pulled in DJ Jazzy Jeff and Alfonso Ribeiro, AKA Carlton, for a Fresh Prince reunion, he brought immeasurable joy to all of us pre-aught children. Sure, Jaden Smith opens the segment with a juvenile rap and proceeds to mess up every dance move, but Carlton did The Carlton! Golden. –Ben Kaye

05. Thom Yorke on The Jonathan Ross Show

It doesn’t take much convicing to realize Thom Yorke is a rare character. As frontman for Radiohead, he stands out in a collection of quirky alternative heroes. As frontman for Atoms for Peace, he also stands out in a collection of quirky alternative heroes. As a one-man piano show, he comes off as a charming Englishman, who can crack a good joke. Once the music starts, however, he’s an enigmatic presence that necessitates the word “enigmatic.” During an impromptu performance of “Karma Police”, he gets so passionate with the microphone it’s surprising he didn’t end up eating it. Dude, it’s not a Cornetto. –Michael Roffman

04. Prince on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Like my mother as patron saint of hugs and grilled cheese, I have an image of Prince that was indelibly formed in childhood: the badass motorcycle-riding heartthrob that grabs the girl and tears down walls of convention in 1984’s Purple Rain. While pajama parties and pancakes might thwart that image some, he firmly reminded us all of his rebellious status this past March on Fallon. Even after 30-plus years, he proved to be a spitfire, alluring and sensual and charismatic, hitting all the right notes and pressing everybody’s buttons like some masterful game of chess. And when he smashed Captain Kirk’s Epiphone Crestwood guitar, he reworked a cliche to remind us all why he’s rock’s true royalty. All hail the Purple Paladin of Pizzazz. –Chris Coplan

03. Kanye West on Saturday Night Live

The hedo-religious maximalism of the Yeezus tour was something to behold, but Kanye West’s performance on Saturday Night Live felt more representative of his latest album. There were no furry messiahs, volcano-mountains, or sequined Leatherface masks; just West, his band, and angry projections. Dogs snapped their jaws and price tags flashed epileptically as West thrashed to drums rightfully cribbed from “Rock and Roll Part 2”. What’s more is that the broadcast introduced most of America to their first taste of Yeezus, letting listeners know that Mr. West was stronger, starker, and more pissed off than ever. –Dan Caffrey

02. Janelle Monáe on Late Show with David Letterman

After her Late Show performance of “Dance Apocalyptic”, David Letterman called Janelle Monáe the “hardest working woman in show business.” He’s not wrong, and Monáe doesn’t even have a Danny Ray to calm her down and drop a cape over her shoulders. Instead of taking any semblance of mock breather, Monáe’s impeccable footwork and furious energy was fueled by a razor-sharp backing band, replete with backup singers and horns. The electric lady prowled the stage aggressively, showing an equal lack of respect for a mic stand, her amazingly coifed do, and Letterman’s desk (onto which she lept to show off some more moves).

Bottom line: This performance put the national audience on notice, a sight that likely jolted more than a few who had flipped over to the Late Show merely looking for the usual late night fare. –Adam Kivel

01. Deerhunter on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

Bradford Cox. That’s all I ever need to say. “Why was it good?” Bradford Cox. The same applies here for Deerhunter’s post-apocalyptic debut performance of “Monomania” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The way Cox hides behind his shades and Johnny Ramone-styled wig is only the wrapping paper to the best late night gift any post-punk fanatic could find so close to Easter. He gets loud, he gets brash, and he seethes when he could have easily just snarled. And the way he simply walks off and heads toward the elevators? It couldn’t possibly get any cooler. Yet somehow it does, and awkwardly waiting for the next ride has never looked more chic.

Back in April, the Internet exploded at Deerhunter’s return, especially having never heard the track, and to date, “Monomania” hasn’t sounded better. Fuck, if only we could have been there. I probably would have walked to the elevators to join him. Hmm, probably for the best that I was at home losing my shit, instead. –Michael Roffman

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