How is Letterman Pulling in Cooler Music Guests Than O'Brien?

Jul. 14, 2009
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The late-night television wars are playing out logically enough, with established entity David Letterman pulling in the larger, broader audience and Jay Leno's younger  replacement Conan O'Brien drawing smaller, but more demographically desirable youthful audience. But even though O'Brien is thriving with viewers 18-34 while Letterman is beginning to cement those over 50, you'd never know it based on the musical guests that the two shows draw.

Letterman, who this year has already featured stunning performances from Bat For Lashes, Cursive, White Rabbits, Beruit and Animal Collective, continues his hot streak this week with a line-up that features (or featured) Kelly Clarkson on Monday, Wilco with Feist last night, Paul McCartney tonight, Grizzly Bear Thursday and Metric Friday. That's a pretty impressive mix of star power and cachet. On the other hand, O'Brien is sending off his shows this week with closing performances from Sugar Ray, Hair, Ray LaMontagne, Playing for Change and comedian Al Madigralnot exactly the type of stuff that's going to light up the blogsophere. 

I'll chalk some of this up to Letterman being in New York as opposed to Los Angeles, but still the difference between the two lineups is striking. O'Brien's re-tooled "Tonight Show" is so self-consciously hip and cutting edge that it has a reoccuring skit about Twitter, yet the show's musical guests are as tame as they were under Leno. The grey-haired Letterman, meanwhile, continues to spotlight the latest Stereogum favorites, sometimes even hosting their broadcast television debut.

Here's the latest memorable video from Letterman's show, the Wilco/Feist duet "You & I."


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