The late-night TV circuit can produce some pretty darn entertaining musical moments, and in 2013, there was no shortage. It was an exciting year in live TV that saw overseas acts like Lorde and Savages make their U.S. television debuts, while seasoned vets Arcade Fire had their fourth go as ‘SNL’’s musical guest. Comprising both straightforward, no-frills rock 'n' roll throwdowns and over-the-top, theatrical outings, our picks for the 10 Best TV Performances of 2013 make a strong argument for staying up late.
Aimee Mann and Ted Leo on ‘Conan’
Days after Aimee Mann and Ted Leo announced they were forming a new project called the Both, the twosome appeared on 'Conan' to perform Mann’s ‘Labrador,’ a song from her 2012 album ‘Charmer.’ While the format didn’t allow for the witty banter found in their Twitter back-and-forths, it didn’t stop them from putting on a great show. On a near-empty stage, Mann and Leo’s exuded enough chemistry to keeps us captivated from beginning to end.
Following the early October release of their third album, ‘Bitter Rivals,’ Sleigh Bells stopped by ‘Late Night With Jimmy Fallon’ for a crushing performance of ‘Minnie.’ Frontwoman Allison Krauss — rocking an awesome leather jacket embossed with the new album’s title and her initials — filled the stage with her larger-than-life presence. Meanwhile, Sleigh Bells’ other half, Derek E. Miller, destroyed the song on his signature tiger-striped guitar. Leave it to these guys to bring their sinister noise-pop to a late-night show and not lose any of their edge.
In support of his critically acclaimed sophomore album, ‘MCII,’ California garage rocker Mikal Cronin performed ‘Change’ on ‘Conan.’ Not surprisingly, Cronin and two other dudes — and one lady — with long hair and flannel killed the super-catchy song. Perhaps more surprisingly, Cronin and company were backed by a string quartet that could shred on par with the singer-guitarist.
Erstwhile Smiths guitarist Johnny Marr showed up his ex-bandmate Morrissey by, well, showing up to perform as a musical guest on ‘Conan.’ But he did more than show up; Marr demonstrated that he’s still got it with his performance of ‘The Right Thing Right,’ a cut from his debut solo album, ‘The Messenger,’ which landed back in February.
Haim’s breakout debut, ‘Days Are Gone,’ earned them a slot as one of ‘SNL’’s musical guests in November, and they proved worthy of all the hype. The Haim sisters already had our attention, but with their performances of album singles ‘The Wire’ and ‘Don’t Save Me,’ they took a firmer hold on it. Plus, the ladies proved you can still totally blow people away despite some of the funniest (and jerkiest) guitar moves (and corresponding facial expressions).
Days before the release of their third album, ‘Modern Vampires in the City,’ Vampire Weekend performed two new tracks, ‘Diane Young’ and ‘Unbelievers,’ on ‘SNL.’ The performance proved an accurate indication that what was to come would be another excellent album from the NYC indie rockers — one that has earned them a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Album.
Janelle Monáe on ‘Letterman’
In September, Janelle Monáe went on ‘Letterman’ to perform ‘Dance Apocalyptic,’ a track from her just-released double album ‘The Electric Lady,’ and she left us believing it may actually be the end of the world. Backed by an expansive band — all dressed in black and white and suspenders — the singer gave a wildly energetic show. She took her moves from the stage to Letterman’s (thankfully vacated) desk, tossed her microphone stand and stomped away into the studio audience at the end of the song.
In her American TV debut, New Zealand songstress Lorde headed to 'Late Night With Jimmy Fallon' to sing her chart-topping single ‘Royals’ a month after the release of her debut, ‘Pure Heroine.’ Channeling her best ‘Bride of Frankenstein,’ the 16-year-old singer floated through the ultra-cool performance. Clearly, she’s still “in love with being queen.”
Likewise, U.K. post-punkers Savages also made their U.S. television debut on 'Fallon,' tearing up the stage with their performance of 'She Will,' a song from their breakthrough debut album, ‘Silence Yourself.’ The foursome absolutely commanded attention with their thrashing rendition of the song, and understandably, frontwoman Jehnny Beth looked a little out of breath after concluding with an urgent cry of “she wills” and a scream.
Arcade Fire earn the best TV performance of 2013 for their fourth stint as a musical guest on ‘SNL.’ The huge Canadian collective sported all white — with co-frontman Win Butler wearing a streak of black makeup across his eyes — during their performance of ‘Afterlife.’ They returned to perform the title track from their fourth album, ‘Reflektor,’ during which co-frontwoman Regine Chassagne disappears around the 2:30 mark only to be found doing some kind of mirror performance art. The winners of 2011 Album of the Year Grammy proved just how arty their art-rock can be, but lest viewers think they take themselves too seriously, the band also partook in one of the show's comedy sketches, wherein host Tina Fey had to guess ‘New Cast Member or Arcade Fire.’