Stick with me for a few minutes, OK? I want to tell you about some cool behind-the-scenes workings that sammymaudlin and I experienced a few weeks ago, during a taping of our first appearance on Conan. First, it may be out of our jurisdiction, but I’d like to issue an official RTH SUMMONS for the show’s host, co-host, band members, and crew to join us in the Halls of Rock.
I’ve long suspected that Conan O’Brien would make a fine Townsman. He’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor, for starters, which helps when any one of us decides to duck away from work or family responsibilities for a few minutes to chat about an obscure record label sampler album or the role of the headband in rock. As many of you know, there are times when we find ourselves taking this stuff a little too seriously, at which point it helps to know the joke’s on us.
Conan’s always been comfortable with the musical aspects of his show, from his rapport with his always excellent band (originally the Max Weinberg 7 [?] and now known as Jimmy Vivino and the Basic Cable Band) to his enthusiasm for his musical guests. I remember the night he introduced The Soundtrack of My Life, a band I’d not yet heard, with the anticipation of a teenage boy ready to rock. Thirty seconds into their performance I extended a virtual high-five to Conan to share in his appreciation for the band’s ability to tap into the Power & Glory of Rock. I bought the album the next day. Another time he had one of my heroes, Nick Lowe, on with Conan’s his band backing him up. It was magic. I had tears of joy streaming down my face, and it was all the better knowing Lowe was performing this magic under Conan’s watch and not some soulless asshole like Jay Leno. (Leno strikes me as one of those guys who doesn’t actually hear or perceive the qualities in music. Yeah, I like all kinds of music, he’d say, shrugging his shoulders unconvincingly. As a side thread in whatever discussion ensues, Quick: Name an album Jay Leno may actually own and know!)
In recent years Conan has been more open then ever about his love for rock ‘n roll: buddying up to Jack White; performing with White and others on his NBC show’s farewell; and as I was lucky enough to witness, popping up on stage to sing “My Bonnie” with The Fab Faux, the awesome Beatles cover band featuring Vivino. Whenever I’ve seen Conan onstage playing music it’s a kick. He’s not a “real musician,” but he’s clearly in heaven whenever he gets a chance to play onstage with real musicians. It’s a feeling with which many of us can identify.
I don’t know about Andy Richter‘s tastes in music, although I’ve read his is rumored to have appeared in the film Tommy. Regardless, he makes me laugh my ass off. If he’s got any rock nerd chops I could see him working under alexmagic‘s wing. It’s easy to register, Andy.
The story behind our appearance on Conan (indisputable proof can be seen here) still amazes me. My wife, boys, and I were a couple of days away from our grand West Coast tour. We were at the kitchen table running through the itinerary. “We should have looked into getting tickets for a taping of Conan,” I said.
“I’ll try Quinn,” my wife said, “she knows everyone!”
Quinn is a dear friend we met in our neighborhood who moved back to her home state a few years ago. My wife texted Quinn. Within 10 minutes Quinn contacted a friend who was a friend of one of Conan’s band members. Next thing I know Conan’s band member e-mailed me to assure me that he would get us tickets. Connections are half the battle kids. Connections and really nice people willing to do a favor for a friend of a friend of a friend! I hope Basic Cable Band keyboardist Scott Healy doesn’t mind me singling him out as the Especially Good Egg a the end of a string of good eggs in this tale. Thank you, Scott, Ruby, Jen (I believe), and Quinn!
The show tapes in the late afternoon. We had to arrive at the studio lot about an hour and a half before start time to get checked in, seated, and warmed up. The gathering area in a roped-off section of possibly the cleanest parking garage on earth was surprisingly comfortable. A PA system pumped out good tunes. We were then walked across the lot to the studio and seated. After a few minutes cool music began playing in the studio while we waited for things to get underway:
- The Clash, “Brand New Cadillac”
- Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, “Where Have All the Rude Boys Gone?”
- The Replacements, “Alex Chilton”
- ZZ Top, “La Grange”
- Something that must have been called “Save Me,” by a band that either was or sounded like The Black Crowes
- Jane’s Addiction, “Been Caught Stealing”
This was rock-solid stuff to pump over the studio’s sound system while we waited for a fireman to tell us something about the emergency exits and then stand-up comic Jimmy Pardo to warm up the crowd with a very funny set, including insulting interactions with the audience. If Pardo’s got any rock-nerd chops I could see him joining forces with a Townsman like mockcarr.
Next the Basic Cable Band came out to play a short, spirited set, highlighted by Curtis Mayfield‘s “Move on Up.” It was cool to hear the band play complete songs during the commercial breaks. (Once things get underway the show is shot in real time.) It was cool to be able to focus on the stage moves and interplay between band members. It was cool to see Conan playing tabletop drums with his pencil during the band’s commercial break performances. You could tell the host was as receptive to music as we are.
Conan’s first guest of the night was Jeff Daniels. That’s me you can hear unleashing the first Whoo! at mention of his work in The Squid and the Whale, 37 seconds into the above clip. It turns out Daniels writes and performs songs for fun; he referenced William Shatner in setting up discussion of this side of his interests, then he played one of his songs, one musical amateur (in the full French sense of the word) to another.
While the crew set up for a performance by musical guest The Fray, a pumped-in performance by James Brown that led to a side discussion between me and sammy. The Fray was the only bum note of our experience. They went down like a serving of leftover store-brand Coldplay, complete with a layer of congealed grease. The lead singer/piano player looked like Gollum and played from that weird side-saddle position on a drum throne that I believe Tori Amos introduced. At least the singer was interesting enough to criticize. The other guys were wet dish rags. The lights were turned down low at Conan’s desk, so I couldn’t tell if he was drumming along to their performance. As the warm and gracious host he was the rest of the show I’m sure he found something good in their performance, maybe complimenting the drummer on how well his kick drum cut when he shook their hands and signed off for the night. He’s a good egg, that Conan.
When the show ended Conan thanked the audience and waved goodbye. As the crew began milling about, putting things away, Quinn said, “Come on, you’ve got to thank Scott!” She marched down the aisle, waved us down to follow, and assured security that we belonged. Scott spent a few minutes talking to us about gigging beyond the show, the importance of live music, etc. A warm vibe ran from the staff in the parking lot through all the folks involved in the studio production. Sammy and I felt right at home.
Glad it was such a good time. About 3 years ago, my brother and I attended a David Letterman taping. I was disappointed in how much more it seemed like Dave was just sleepwalking through the show. It was cool to have the band so close, and getting to hear them play whole songs, but Dave just seemed disinterested. The only guest I remember was David Spade.
Bobby Bittman didn’t you write that Dave is/was a big Zevon fan, and had him on one night as his only guest. That’s very cool.
Another friend of mine had a similar experience at a Letterman taping. We were impressed by how engaged Conan was. When they ran video bits, for instance, he was leaning in toward the monitors and laughing along with the audience. I would have expected him to count to 30 or 60, until the cameras were back on him.
I think I remember that Zevon show. Wasn’t it broadcast after he was diagnosed as terminally ill?
You know Spade and sammy go way back, don’t you?
I do remember Sammy’s connection. If I can use that SAT testing analogy thing; Sammy is to David Spade as Chickenfrank is to Mike Chiklis.
Great story! Last time I was headed for NY, I checked into show tickets for the Late Show and the Daily Show and it seemed impossible.
Yeah, the Zevon show was basically a thank you + goodbye appreciation. You could tell he was struggling.
I think it’s telling that the first major late-night teevee personality to feature the Upper Crust was Conan. The second was another smart, funny, underestimated host, Craig Ferguson.
Yeah, Zevon had been a guest numerous times, and filled in as band leader for Paul Schaffer several times. Warren said that Dave’s show was the best friend his music’s ever had. That final appearance was as trigmo said. Here it is, in four parts (well worth a look, if you haven’t seen it):
Glad you guys had a good time; sounds like a lot of fun.
What’s with Jeff Daniel’s (tanning booth) tan? He is like glowing. Guess it’s for anchorman role in his news show.
That’s a cool tale. If he actually cares about the musical guests, I may have to find Conan on the cable lineup. I had entirely forgotten about him since the Tonight Show mess a few years ago. Jay Leno couldn’t be interested in the musical portions of his show and I get the sense that Letterman has gotten too glib and cynical about the whole thing. Still, he must have cared at one time (I saw the Zevon shows, I think he let Zevon guest host as well) to put Paul Shaffer in the music director’s chair.
Jimmy Fallon has the hippest musical guests, and he seems jazzed by some of them. Unfortunately I can’t stand Fallon, and if he has someone on I want to see, I have to just fast forward to that point.
I’ve very slowly warmed up to Fallon as a talk-show host, but I know what you mean. My stepfather also makes a habit of taping his show and fast-forwarding to the musical bits.
Zevon’s line on not seeing a doctor in decades: “Turned out to be one of those phobias that just didn’t pay off.” Classic WZ