No longer on the telly: Laters, Letters: David Letterman’s most iconic Late Show performances

As the U.S. talk show host and music mega-fan steps down from his Late Show slot, DIY looks at the performances that enraptured both sides of the Atlantic.

Whether it’s his deadpan delivery drawing parallels with that oh-so-British sense of humour, the effortlessly meme-worthy obsession with drum kits or simply the springboard that his iconic twilight stage provides, Letterman’s appeal has latched onto fans both sides of the Atlantic – and, admittedly, the world over.

With his final show at the helm being broadcast last night – and culminating in a heart-wrenching rendition of Foo Fighters classic ‘Everlong’ - below we take a run through the tracks that made Letterman’s infectious enthusiasm such a gripping and integral part of global music fandom.


Yes, he got their name wrong in the build up to the performance (sorry to break it to you, anyone still waiting for Brenge) and yes, his pronunciation of Derbyshire is unlikely to be heard wafting from the rafters of Derby County’s Pride Park Stadium any time soon, but in showcasing the riotous ‘We Can Do What We Want’ and their new third member on Letterman, the brothers Drenge made themselves one hell of a new fan. “YEAH! Come on! Come on! Let’s go! Nice job! DERBASHYR! Thank you very much. Nice going - that’s all you need for god’s sakes. Drenge, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you boys” went the uncontrolled ramblings of the man himself following their performance – the perfect illustration of an excitement and love for music that was palpable, and formed much of Letterman’s appeal.


It may lack the befuddled Robbie Williams stood in the background that made their Jools Holland performance so unintentionally comical, but At The Drive In’s Late Show take on alt-club mega-hit ‘One Armed Scissor’ is razor sharp instead. There’s a thrash-and-burn attitude to the band’s performance that hints at their upcoming break-up like never before, the members hurling themselves around the stage with little-to-no cohesion – the final throes of an exorcism that would soon become their funeral. The band imploded shortly after, granting the Late Show stage one of the most tightrope-straddling performances of the band’s career.


It’s no secret that Letterman’s tastes veer a little more to the scuzzier side of life, so when The Orwells brought their caterwauling rendition of ‘Who Needs You’ to the show, his frenzied demands for an encore were grin-enducing. The NY-punk attitude of the band cared little for such requests, though, spawning one of the show’s most bafflingly brilliant moments as the house band - led by the ever-batshit Paul Schaffer - took on the track themselves with an almost note-for-note cover. It all ended in Paul himself writhing around on the floor for that perfect rockstar box-ticking performance, and a slightly sheepish looking Orwells looking less than impressed. Amazing scenes.


Post-punk’s burgeoning Northern scene finally found its figurehead with Eagulls, and as they took to the Late Show to showcase their upcoming self-titled album on the global stage, the Leeds gang felt fit to carry their whole nation Stateside. A particularly apt song choice combined with George Mitchell’s hypnotic centre-stage magnetism to draw even frequent Late Show guest Bill Murray under their spell - when ‘Eagulls’ finally saw release the following month, the incomparably accomplished debut instantly marked itself out as a gem in the rough of its Northern surroundings.


Sparking a series of performances from the XL-signed crooner, Adele’s debut Late Show appearance was the first step in forming a Stateside appeal for the London lass. She’s now a global household name and renowned for her bolshy, no-fucks-given off-stage attitude, but as she takes to the purple-hued stage to lay herself bare to an audience of millions, there’s little doubting the tragedy behind her music.


It almost goes without saying. Is there anyone yet to witness this career-defining move from the Baltimore group? Surely the crucial performance of the show’s later years, as Future Islands brought ‘Seasons Change (Waiting On You)’ to the table, complete with Samuel T. Herring’s internet-adored dance moves and guttural roars, they finally broke through the glass ceiling that had held them back for so long, enrapturing the world in the process. They’re surely sick of hearing about it now, but for old time’s sake, dive in once more to a truly captivating rendition of one of 2014’s finest pop moments.

Photo: Jeffrey R. Staab/CBS /Landov.

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