(Video included) It was a good week in late night television music, all leading up to a White Stripes reunion on Conan O’Brien’s show. But in an unexpected twist, the White Stripes ended up being outshined by the rest.
Jay Leno, nearing the end of his reign on The Tonight Show, had a couple of great guests this week, including Lisa Harriton, the English-born keyboardist and vocalist who recently joined The Smashing Pumpkins. She displayed her musical chops with a table-top style accordion, but really shines with her soft, breathy voice reminiscent of Natalie Merchant.
A personal favorite and Chicago native Andrew Bird played Leno this week too, showing his mastery of his own style. He’s an incredible talent, demonstrated in both his music abilities, his command of a stage and his melodies. He invokes feelings of Lyle Lovett and Elvis Costello but remains completely original. Below, he performs “Fitz and the Dizzyspells” from his new album “Noble Beast.”
David Letterman featured the venerable Willie Nelson, playing with Asleep at the Wheel, recent collaborators and touring partners.
What can you say about Willie Nelson? He embodies country music, timeless authenticity … and America. Combined with Asleep at the Wheel is a powerful combination. The performance was good ol’ country blues, with some bluegrass thrown in, Willie with his beat-up nylon string acoustic guitar, some tabletop slide guitar and, unfortunately, a spastic Paul Schaffer on keyboards. Below is their performance of “Hesitation Blues.”
Finally, Conan O’Brien had long-time friends The White Stripes. It was a reunion of sorts – they haven’t played together since Meg White deep-sixed a 2007 tour due to anxiety issues. O’Brien and The White Stripes have a history together, prompting Conan to introduce them as, “Our good friends for many years, The White Stripes.” They played Conan’s favorite, “We’re Going to be Friends,” an innocent-sounding, wonderfully rhythmic song – except they managed to strip out all of the rhythm. Sure, they haven’t played together in some time so you might expect them to be a little off. But there was something else different about this performance. Jack White appeared to have some real emotional struggles with this one, looking as if he was coming close to tears at several points. His and Meg’s relationship has been subject to scrutiny and speculation throughout the years, speckled with problems, and it appears that whatever it is, they aren’t past it. It was a busted performance by a broken band, in what very well might have been the final performance for The White Stripes. And the moment wasn’t lost on Conan, who leaned into Jack White after the performance, saying “That means the world to me.”