In honor of the 20th anniversary of this blip of a genre, I will be posting a long, personal, rambling series of essays. Some will have stats, most will be very scatterbrained, all will be disputable about one of my favorite genres that may not have been a genre at all…
I’m not going to read too much into this, but the fact of the matter is that “Late Night with Conan O’Brien” supplied the world with lots of looks at the GRR crew, and not just from the White Stripes. Many of these bands appeared on Letterman, a few made it to SNL, but almost all of them played Conan. I took a look at some and tried to make a list of first appearances, including dates, clip links and a tally of their total “Late Night” appearances. I also tried to go in chronological order, and while I don’t pretend to have every band represented… it’s free content, what do you want?
Let us now step into the truest manifestation of time travel: YouTube and IMDb to get some GRR going!
(“Late Night” appearances: 9)
Kinda slow. Slower than the album version. Not that it’s bad because of it; it does increase the Velvet Underground vibes. I’m also impressed/surprised that the vocals still have maintain their lo-fi-in-the-red sound.
The Hives: “Hate to Say I Told You So,” 6/13/2002
(“Late Night” appearances: 3)
Reliably high-energy and fun. I actually compared this performance to a different appearance by the Strokes and I’ve hit on a deeper truth. The Hives were a LIVE band that wrote songs to perform LIVE. They built their shows — even little 4-minute-long ones like these — around being the biggest, wildest, funnest, funniest they could be. Watch as Pelle chats up the crowd during the breakdown at about 2/3’s of the way through the song. He actually gets a laugh (at about 2:40)!
Your mileage may vary, but to me it’s very, very different. And this may speak to where the strengths of the two bands truly were. One was a live band that played live music to be just that. The other wrote songs that were best enjoyed in their recorded form. That breakdown in the Strokes song? Charming and fun on the record, but live it feels like they should’ve considered cutting it. Watch as their lead singer mumbles his crowd work, then wanders off — he’s played this song hundreds of time, he knows this moment is coming, yet he still hadn’t figured out how to look cool doing that.
The Hives saw these “down times” as opportunities for more performance. The Strokes just seem to be doing them without realizing, well, it’s a down time.
The Vines: “Get Free,” 7/16/2002
(“Late Night” appearances: 1)
In a way, the Vines looked the garage-rock part the best of all these bands. Maybe the Strokes were a little more of the style, but none of them appeared on national TV with a U.S.A. tee-shirt. The Vines’ look was surely tailored, but it appears more garage tailored than the other groups. Good performance, too.
(“Late Night” appearances: 7)
This was a surprise. I’ll be writing more about their Conan Residency week in a future post, but I thought/assumed they’d made an appearance prior to this one. Internet says “no,” so we’re going with that.
If I had to put these performers in competition with each other (and I do), I’d almost cite the Stripes with a violation for the fact that their song is not only their biggest hit, but arguably the biggest hit of any of these bands. For many people, this could’ve been their first time hearing the soon-to-be anthem, their first chance to marvel at the fact that (*gasp*) that bass part isn’t on a bass at all!
It’s a good performance, harmed only by the fact that the album track is ubiquitous and amazing on its own. Bonus style points for Meg’s dress. And watch for the end when Conan goes to shake her hand — shut down by security.
(“Late Night” appearances: 2)
I feel bad, but a lot of the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s work feels very much in line with their name. I always read that not in a Beatles manner, but in a dismissive way, like “I get it.”
I get it. It’s fine. ‘S fine.
OK, we made it through the first 2-ish years. The second part will go through more of Conan O’Brien’s unofficial sponsorship of the GRR world.