Putting Aussie bands on the world stage
Music has always been a big part of the late night TV scene in America. There’s never a day when a James Corden Carpool Karaoke or Jimmy Fallon and The Roots video isn’t trending, and back in the day, a performance on Letterman or SNL could make or break a rising band.
The last few minutes of the show have always been dedicated to music from around the globe, and have proved to be a great starting point for so many Aussie acts to show what they’ve got to give on a world stage.
This article was originally published June 26, 2020.
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Today, we’re revisiting some of the best moments from Australian acts on late night television – kick back and enjoy.
Silverchair – ‘Abuse Me’ (Live on Letterman)
This Newcastle trio are still one of Australia’s top musical exports, and this performance on Letterman 24 years ago proves why.
Fresh out of high school, Silverchair provided an angst that felt more authentic than others in the grunge wave of that time, an angst that was distinctly Aussie and seemed to resonant with fans globally as a result. The Daniel Johns-led trio had all just finished high school and were getting better and better, with this live Freak Show cut showing just how much talent was on offer.
After playing Letterman, the band would go on to tour the US with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Offspring – a pretty awesome job for three school mates from Newcastle.
Tame Impala – ‘Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind?’ (Late Night With Jimmy Fallon)
Having dropped Innerspeaker the year before, Tame Impala were already on a trajectory for great things by the time they made their US television debut in 2011, but this is where it all really started to take off for the Fremantle band.
Performing ‘Why Don’t You Make Up Your Mind’, the band fuzzed their way into American homes and hearts, gaining a huge amount of domestic attention for their incredibly tight performance on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show.
The band has since toured the States more than ten times after this performance, proving the power of late night TV when it works at its best.
Lupe Fiasco and Guy Sebastian – ‘Battle Scars’ (Conan O’Brien)
This hit provided the 2003 Australian Idol winner with some well-earned world-wide attention. Performing on Conan in 2013, Guy performed ‘Battle Scars’ with acclaimed rapper Lupe Fiasco to homes across the US, and made a pretty sizeable impact as a result.
Sebastian’s an incredibly talented singer, and you can really hear him giving his all on this rendition of the song. This 2012 track was co-penned by Lupe and Guy, and has since reached Platinum status in America.
Watch the performance below.
Middle Kids – ‘Mistake’ (The Late Late Show with James Corden)
One of the most recent performance on the list comes from the Sydney group Middle Kids on The Late Late Show with James Corden in 2018.
After previously performing on Conan and Kimmel, the band were well and truly seasoned performers of the late night music scene, but nothing matches the intensity of this set.
Performing ‘Mistake’ off their debut Lost Friends, this performance is definitely one to remember.
Keith Urban – ‘Coming Home’ (Live From Jimmy Kimmel Live!)
Keith’s a worldwide star, as big in America as he is here, but his heart has always been with Australia.
This performance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2018 showed what an awesome performer he is, and why he has so many fans worldwide.
Performing ‘Coming Home’ with pop star Julia Michaels, Keith puts on a great show for the crowd and the audience watching from home, fusing aspects of country rock with glossy pop to appeal to everybody out there.
Courtney Barnett – ‘Dead Fox’ (Conan O’Brien)
‘Jen insists that we buy organic vegetables / And I must admit that I was a little skeptical at first / A little pesticide can’t hurt’.
A mundane supermarket scenario turned brilliant through the witty writing of Courtney Barnett, ‘Dead Fox’ proved to be a highlight of Barnett’s full-length debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, played live on Conan O’Brien in June 2015.
After playing Jimmy Fallon a few years earlier, as well as touring the States a few times around, her and her trio were already a well-oiled machine by this stage, and you can definitely see that through this performance.
Wilma Reading – The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson
While there’s no footage existing on the internet, the first appearance from any Australian on late night TV in the US actually came from Wilma Reading, an Indigenous jazz singer born in Cairns.
Reading appeared on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in the early ’70s and blew audiences away with her amazing vocal talent. This led her to perform in America with such Jazz greats as Duke Ellington. Even after receiving acclaim in the States, she hasn’t received much attention back home, a topic that’s further delved into here.
Although it’s a shame there’s no video available to watch, you can get acquainted with Reading’s talent through this performance at Melbourne International Jazz Festival from 2015.
INXS & Ray Charles – ‘Please (You Got That)’ (Live on Letterman)
Ray Charles and INXS seem like a weirder combination than chips and ice cream, but much alike the McDonalds duo, it works so well.
The Georgian soul maestro performed with the Michael Hutchence-led group on Letterman in 1993, where they performed their duet ‘Please (You Got That)’.
Hearing the iconic voices of Ray Charles and Michael Hutchence atop of one another truly is something quite special, and the performance is bolstered by the band’s killer playing – these guys were so tight in their prime.
The Cat Empire – ‘Sly’ (Live on Letterman)
One of Australia’s most loved bands of the 2000s, The Cat Empire also managed to snag themselves a late night slot in their heyday, performing their reggae-funk hit ‘Sly’ on Letterman in 2007.
While their performance may lack the usual ooomph of the Empire Horns backing them, The Cat Empire nonetheless ‘skaaed’ their way into the hearts of music fans across America, with Harry James Angus delivering a searing performance on the trumpet.
This song gained heaps of traction appearing in the FIFA game the following the year. After this performance they gained the appreciation of Letterman bandleader Paul Schaffer, which is definitely as big as compliment as you can get in the world of late night TV.
Late night television, however, still doesn’t get better than Australia’s Rage, which we think is the best music program of all time.