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10. Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, 'Let Them Knock' ('The Late Late Show With Craig Ferguson,' Jan. 30, 2009)
It's been a joy watching Sharon Jones' popularity rise from a footnote in the career of Amy Winehouse (they share a backing band, the excellent Dap-Kings) to being a star in her own right. And it's not hard to see why she's caught on: Just listen to how many shouts of "woo" she elicits from the crowd, a rarity for a late-night TV performance, during this sultry soul cut.
9. Sigur Rós, 'Njósnavélin' ('The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn,' Dec. 14, 2001)
Considering their ethereal sound, it's almost alarming to see this band not draped in lights and fog when they play live. Here they actually look like a pretty common rock four-piece. Once they start, however, it's a different story, as guitarist-vocalist Jón Þór Birgisson eventually breaks out a violin bow à la Jimmy Page, creating some hauntingly beautiful sounds to match his falsetto. Also, ignoring the fact that he flubbed the band's name, doesn't it seem like this would be the last band Kilborn would be listening to?
8. Arcade Fire, 'Rebellion (Lies)' ('Late Show With David Letterman,' Sept. 14, 2005)
Indie's answer to arena rock opens with a barrage of horns, guitars, strings and drums before settling into a bass-driven groove as Win Butler, seemingly removed and wearing all black, starts singing. Things pick up, though, and before you know it, everyone's screaming "Lies!" Kudos to Win for ending the song with a defiant "You've been lied to."
7. Bright Eyes, 'When the President Talks to God' ('The Tonight Show With Jay Leno,' May 2, 2005)
It ain't subtle and it certainly ain't Dylan, but Conor Oberst's slap in the face of then-President George W. Bush did cause a stir when it aired on 'Leno.' Wearing a cowboy hat, perhaps to mock Bush's good ol' boy demeanor, the Bright Eyes frontman goes for the jugular, painting the President as a dimwit and a Christian whose policies are anything but. Oberst is pissed off, asking, "Does he ever smell his own bulls---?" Based on the crowd's reaction, he wasn't the only one.
6. Beastie Boys, 'Ch-Check It Out' ('Late Show With David Letterman,' June 14, 2004)
NYC's perpetually youthful goofballs strut up subway stairs, through the streets of midtown and into Letterman's studio. Shot with a fish-eye lens, the trio takes turns spitting rhymes at the camera, which not only looks cool as they cruise past a bunch of pedestrians but also turns out to be the perfect concept for a song from their tribute album to the Big Apple, 'To the 5 Boroughs.'
5. The Killers, 'A Dustland Fairytale' ('Late Show With David Letterman,' May 11, 2009)
Like the city they call home, Brandon Flowers & Co. are nothing if not over the top. So it's not at all surprising that they enlisted Paul Shaffer to conduct an orchestra during last year's stop on 'Letterman.' What is unexpected is how fantastic the whole thing is, how Flowers demands attention as his vocals soar above strings and how, even if you find this Cinderella in Sin City tale a bit preachy and ridiculous, you can't help but be wowed by the spectacle of it.
4. Radiohead, '2 + 2 = 5' ('Friday Night With Jonathan Ross,' Nov. 7, 2003)
There was a lot of speculation about what 'Hail to the Thief' would sound like when the band talked of listening to the Strokes and returning to more guitar-centric songwriting before its release. Turns out it wasn't the total post-'Amnesiac' turnaround some thought it might be, not that this opener doesn't rock. As seen here, the song affords Thom Yorke the opportunity to let his inner punk loose, as he rapidly shakes his head, yelling, "Payin' attention."
3. Elvis Perkins, 'While You Were Sleeping' ('Late Show With David Letterman,' June 13, 2007)
It's a simple concept, adding band members to the stage one by one as a song builds, but it works so well here that by the time the trumpeter joins in, you can't help but feel chills. There was a lot riding on Perkins' lauded debut, 'Ash Wednesday,' which was inspired by his parents' deaths -- his mother's in the September 11th attacks and his father, actor Anthony Perkins, succumbing to AIDS a day short of exactly nine years earlier. It's a shockingly tragic story, but you needn't really know it to appreciate this performance, which sounds much fuller than the recorded version.
2. The Strokes, 'Take It or Leave It' ('Late Show With David Letterman,' April 11, 2002)
At the time, they were the band plenty of rock snobs loved to hate. But even haters had to admit that this performance by the press-anointed saviors of rock 'n' roll killed. Jules in particular seems completely enraged, slamming down the microphone, punching his fist and walking offstage during the song's break. When he returns, wild-eyed, yelling, "He's gonna let you down," you can tell he's either gone through a bad breakup or had a terrible, terrible day. Either way, the result is undeniably cool.
1. The White Stripes, 'Let's Build a Home' and 'Goin' Back to Memphis' ('Late Night With Conan O'Brien,' April 24, 2003)
Years from now, if someone is wondering what all the fuss was about with this duo, show this clip. The Stripes end their weeklong residency on 'Conan' with their sweaty, blaring best, with Jack acting possessed (jumping off Meg's bass drum, soloing on Conan's desk) while Meg concentrates on keeping up, the whole time not seemingly like a showoff so much as a born showman tapping into something primal.