Surprise: Music Is The Fallon Advantage

Coco Over America (Presented by American Express, doncha know!)

News of the Conan O’Brien live tour (and its expensive ticket prices) has reminded me that there’s something I wanted to say about the State of Late Night on American television. What may have been lost in all the coverage of the late night TV battles of Jay vs. Coco or  Jay vs. Dave, was the slow, steady emergence of  Jimmy Fallon as his show becomes a surprisingly convincing air to the mantle handed to him by Conan O’Brien.

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I’ll be the first to admit I was skeptical when NBC announced that Jimmy Fallon would be taking over from Conan on March 2, 2009. Conan was, and is, a TV natural who had himself drawn fire when he took over from David Letterman in the same job over 13 years earlier. But Conan took the brand handed to him and pushed the boundaries in a way only Letterman himself had. Conan moving to 11:35 was always going to be as potentially fraught with compromise as it had been for Dave on CBS, and no one looks to today’s Letterman for that kind of innovation or madcap excitement. Frankly, though, I feel Dave has proved his early innovation and has earned a victory lap. Let him have it.

Letterman’s music tastes (or the tastes of his bookers) have not faltered however and most nights you get the feeling that the bands and solo artists he presents are top quality, proven or rather new artist alike. This is the big time, Broadway (the Ed Sullivan Theater) and it shows. Paul Shaffer and his excellent band are the real deal and every night feels like a Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame gig.

Probably sensing that he had tough shoes to fill, the Fallon Late Night so many things right, straight out of the gate. For one thing, choosing The Roots as his house band (announced nightly as “the legendary Roots crew!”) was an inspired and inspiring move.

The Roots, two-tiers of funk, on set at Fallon (AP Photo/Charles Sykes)

I loved it when newly skinny Elvis Costello sat in with The Roots on Fallon a while back:

Elvis Costello (centre) rehearses with The Roots.

If Shaffer owns 11:35, then this Philly born soul revue, lead by the enigmatic drummer Questlove (?uestlove) can claim 12:35.

Besides leaning more toward sketch comedy material, as his predecessor did, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon has made an agressive bid to be give Letterman a run for his money in the “breaking bands” department. A series of great musical moments has redefined the show as DVR worthy.

For me, the first begrudging moment was when they embraced Yacht Rock by having Christopher Cross perform “Ride Like The Wind” complete with guest Michael McDonald. Then came Fallon’s dead-on Neil Young impersonation “Pants On The Ground,” a Youngian adaptation of the fad American Idol viral video hit, which itself went viral.

Forgive the quality of this YouTube clip, recorded off the TV:

Then after that, I really started noticing that the musical acts weren’t just cutting edge, some of them were barely off the pages of Pitchfork (where I suspect the bookers get their tips).

NBC are very covetous of their clips so its a hard slog to get them up here on my blog, I’m indebted to a great website called The Audio Perv, who have some Fallon and other stuff up, like this one of Regina Spektor that I’m having trouble embedding:

And here’s a link to Audio Perv’s clip of Beach House on Fallon doing “Zebra”:

Audio Perv actually pointed me to some great clips that are currently up on YouTube, that is until NBC shuts down the links.

Ted Leo and The Pharmacists doing “The Mighty Sparrow”

Last night they had Broken Bells, the new project from Danger Mouse and Jason Mercer from The Shins. This was “The Ghost Inside”

Here (until NBC takes it down) was The National debuting new material, “Terrible Love” the other night

The musical acts are mostly great and Jimmy and the team seem to truly “get it”, they love TV and they love putting on a show worthy of staying up for, or at least recording, every night.


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