Tuned In

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Tuned In: My Chemical Romance Delve Deep On Fallon

Where has My Chemical Romance been? (On tour, but we were being rhetorical, so play along.) After appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last November, premiering their entire album Danger Days: The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys live in LA for MTV a week later, the band has shied away from the promotional circuit (save for a Conan appearance back in January). You’d even be forgiven for thinking that their appearance yesterday on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon was in support of a new album, especially if you gave Danger Days too little attention when it came out (as we confess we did).

Maybe the fact that the band wasn’t trying to push their album to anyone who wasn’t already interested was why the performance was so compelling. Maybe it was their choice of deep cut “The Kids From Yesterday” instead of any of the singles. Or maybe it was frontman Gerard Way‘s constantly shifting focus, often turning his back on the cameras to face the cluster of fans of the band, singing along on the balconies over the stage. (This performance had more cuts from camera to camera, and worm’s-eye-view shots, than any we can remember seeing on late night television?even more frantic and frenetic even than when singers have departed the stage.) In any case, the rockers convinced us, with this ballad, to revisit their album. Which we guess was sort of the point.

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Tuned In: Mat Kearney Takes A Cue From Hanson On Leno

Last night, we were all about the Explosions in the Sky performance on the Late Show with David Letterman?not necessarily because we’re the biggest fans of their sweeping-guitar post-rock (which is not bad) but because for four precious minutes we could close our eyes and pretend that Friday Night Lights was still on the air. (We miss you, Coach Taylor!) As a result, we underrated the unassuming performance taking place simultaneously on the Tonight Show: Mat Kearney‘s “Hey Mama.” Back in 2006 Kearney was a You Oughta Know artist whose songwriting (and vocals) reminded us of parts of what we like about Coldplay.

In the intervening years, he’s added not-inconsiderable pep, and a full horn section, to his band, which pushes yet another set of our pop-music buttons. Think Chris Martin fronting Hanson on a “Give a Little” b-side. In fact, it was so catchy that we’re willing to forgive the lyric “Met her at Anthropologie.” Check it out!

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Tuned In: tUnE-yArDs Gives Christina Perri A Run For Her Money (With Help From The Roots)

We’re not sure how to explain the glut of great performances on television last night, but we’re certainly not complaining. We actually recommend checking them all out (links below the cut), but we couldn’t even pick just one highlight. To be sure, when The Late Show with David Letterman wrapped up, we thought we had just seen the best of the night. Christina Perri, fresh off a tour with James Blunt (and clearly much more confident as a showperson) turned in an impressive performance of her Top 20 Countdown contender and #24 most-streamed-of-2011 single “Arms.” Why, you might wonder, were we so impressed by a three-month-old single on Letterman? Quite frankly, because her touring experience has stepped her performance game up by an order of magnitude. Before her serendipitous Dancing with the Stars breakthrough, her storied performance history was almost exclusively solo guitar-and-vocal shows, but the Perri who performed on television late night was a pianist and a bandleader, with a rhythm section in the pocket, and able to add a jaunty lilt to her love ballad (getting the audience to clap along, even) without modifying the song’s tempo. (We’re a sucker for tone shifts, because they suggest a wider range and further depths of talent.)

There wasn’t a dud in the entire night’s lineup of musical performances (though the Jimmy Kimmel Live! booker really gave the talented ukelele player Jake Shimabukuro a tough break by scheduling him opposite a whole slate of much better-known artists, and on Kimmel‘s first show since Lady Gaga‘s appearance last Thursday). Even still, Perri’s performance set the bar for the evening. Then tUnE-yArDs appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and, dare we say, raised it.

We’re not exactly surprised that tUnE-yArDs impressed the Fallon crowd with “Gangsta,” because the band’s live show has impressed us?not to mention the crowd at this year’s Pitchfork Musical Festival?in the past. To match a nuanced performance by a You Oughta Know artist who’s clearly only gotten better, though, tUnE-yArDs needed to do more than just sound good on television. So how about getting ?uestlove‘s help to turn the instrumental break in “Gangsta” into a free-jazzy hip-hop beat for Black Thought, also of The Roots, to rap over? That’s enough for us to keep it in the running!

Whose performance was better? (Or does one of the other performances listed below top both?) Let us know in the comments!

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Tuned In: Anna Calvi Makes Her U.S. Television Debut On Letterman

For the most part a Mercury Prize nomination serves either as another critical feather in the cap of a commercially successful artist like Adele, or else as an acknowledgment of a particularly British artist like Katy B, whose two-steppy pop is danceable and emotive, but stands practically no chance of crossing over into the US pop world.

Occasionally, though, the nomination is an opportunity?the tipping point in a wave of good press that gets US critics?and audiences?paying attention. Take Tinie Tempah, about whom we wrote just yesterday. Or take?Anna Calvi, who made her United States television debut last night on?The Late Show with David Letterman. Backed only by a drummer and an extremely enthusiastic harmonium player and percussionist (about whom Letterman quipped,?”This woman is quite busy. Have you noticed that?”), Calvi charmed the Late Show audience with a guitar-and-vocal performance influenced by, but hardly a cookie-cutter copy of, PJ Harvey. Whether Calvi can build an American audience remains to be seen, but this first shot across the bow was remarkably effective.

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Tuned In: Shaggy Brings His “Sugarcane” To Lopez Tonight

The late night shows had particularly strong musical performances yesterday. Eels on Letterman, Train on Leno, The Features on Kimmel, and Matt and Kim on Fallon all turned in great renditions of their singles. These records have all been out for a minute, though (except the Features’ Wilderness, but they’ve been playing “Golden Comb” since 2009).

Sometimes it’s nice to hear a (nearly) brand new song on television, and that’s why we have to hand the night to Shaggy. “Sugarcane,” which he performed on Lopez Tonight, is very much in the vein of his previous hits “Boombastic” and “It Wasn’t Me”: a charmingly bawdy summery reggae single (sample lyric: “She likes the taste of my sugarcane”). In interviews with Billboard and with Rolling Stone, he’s contrasted his music with that of more explicitly lewd dancehall artists like Vybz Kartel, which strikes us as a bit backwards, like saying you like rap “but none of that gangster stuff.” But it’s tough enough to break through in the United States with Jamaican music, and if that’s the angle he needs, more power to him. “Sugarcane” isn’t about to top the charts (sorry, Shaggy), but it may have modest success, and it was certainly just the thing for Tuesday’s late night lineup.

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Tuned In: Gavin DeGraw Treats Leno Crowd To “Not Over You”

VH1 Top 20 Countdown contender (and Best Week Ever Happy Hour participant) Gavin DeGraw teased the Tonight Show audience for a few minutes yesterday during his performance of the single “Not Over You.” The songwriter and multi-instrumentalist had a piano all set up for him, but he ignored it for most of the song, instead walking back and forth across the stage as he sang. But when the keyboardist in his talented and compact backing band strapped on an acoustic guitar for the second chorus, DeGraw finally relented. The appearance was simply more proof that when it comes to a certain type of pop-rock, DeGraw has the form mastered, from songwriting to showmanship.

Also last night, actor Michael Rapaport appeared on Lopez Tonight to promote his A Tribe Called Quest documentary. He and George Lopez talked about the life-changing effect of “Rapper’s Delight” (sounding not unlike Ice Cube in his episode of Behind The Music) before rapping a not-insubstantial chunk of the song. They’re not Timberlake and Fallon, but they’re not bad.

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Tuned In: Justin Timberlake And Jimmy Fallon Revisit “The History Of Rap” With An Equally-Thrilling Part 2

Sorry, Emmylou Harris! You’re a very talented performer and your rendition of “New Orleans” on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon yesterday was great. But when Justin Timberlake is also a guest, and he and Jimmy Fallon provide a sequel to their raucously entertaining “History of Rap” from September, you’re going to get upstaged.

Transitioning effortlessly from old-school classics like Kurtis Blow‘s “The Breaks” to early-nineties hip-hop head favorites like Black Sheep‘s “The Choice Is Yours,” to more recent hits like Lil Wayne‘s “A Milli,” the duo entertained the heck out of the audience in the crowd and at home. Wisely, the two touched on a number of dance-associated tracks, so Timberlake, in particular, could show off his best Dougie, robot, and even Ed Lover dance. They even rattled off a few bars of “Up In Here,” possibly in honor of DMX‘s recent release from incarceration. This is the rare sequel that matches the original, and it’s a must-watch.

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Tuned In: Wye Oak’s “Holy Holy” The Highlight Of An Exceptional Late-Night Music Slate

Last night’s television lineup was a bounty of musical riches: Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros played Conan‘s Summer Concert Series; Bono and The Edge, promoting Spider-Man: Turn Off The Dark (the show’s musical guests), performed “Stuck In a Moment” off-the-cuff; Britpop revivalists Viva Brother made their US television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live!. Plus Jordan Knight and Imelda May! It’s not often that we have difficulty choosing a highlight among the evening’s musical performances, so we encourage you to check them all out (linked below).

That said, Baltimore’s Wye Oak won the night with their performance of “Holy Holy,” from their third album Civilian, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The duo has a knack for sounding bigger and louder than they appear, and this performance was no exception. Drummer Andy Stack always keeps his left hand free for backing keyboard chords, and lead singer Jenn Wasner‘s deceptively simple electric guitar playing alternately hangs back for verses and fills the air for choruses. The band has been slowly but steadily building a following since their 2007 debut If Children (re-released by Merge in 2008), and refining their sound with each new release. Last night’s television debut was a great showcase of March’s Civilian, their best album yet, and we expect even better from the band in the future.

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Tuned In: Chris Brown Might Have Broken The Today Show Attendance Record

Sporting a handsome suit and a shiny pink bow tie, Chris Brown took to the stage this morning before upwards of 18,000 fans (!), performing “Forever” (video above), “She Ain’t You” (video below) and “I Can Transform Ya” on NBC’s TODAY in New York City. While a string of recent controversies seem to follow the troubled young singer, the large audience may serve as a band-aid step in the right direction.

NBC stated on their site that the show was “one of their biggest concert events ever,” but OK Magazine is reporting that this concert was, in fact, the largest in TODAY history, beating out pop force of nature Lady Gaga. However, Jezebel claims that 20,000 Little Monsters showed up to watch their Mother Monster perform, so

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Tuned In: Joe Jonas Impresses on Fallon

Wednesday was a surprisingly good night for music on television. Raphael Saadiq performed on the ESPYs (hopefully video will show up online soon), and Best Week Ever favorite David Cook performed “The Last Goodbye” on Leno. And the new song Gomez played on Letterman has a killer bridge. But we were most curious to see Joe Jonas perform on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, especially after the coverage of his Brooklyn performance last week.

His rendition of “See No More” did not disappoint. Comparisons to Justin Timberlake are perhaps overstated, but they’re not off the mark. Jonas has the charisma to pull off a televised vocal performance of a largely digitally programmed song like this dance-pop single, and adapt it for a backing band (as he did last night). Plus this song, cowritten by Chris Brown, allows us to appreciate that R&B singer’s musical talent without having to reconcile it with his public behavior. We do have to agree with Jonas’s critics, though: ditch the backup dancers, Joe. They’re talented folks, but they distract and detract from your performance. Overall, though, “See No More” bodes well for the rest of the forthcoming solo LP.

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