From Geek Goes Rogue TV Editor Zach Lorton, as told to by the spiky-haired, spandex-clad frontman who’s been hanging around his front porch for the last 23 years…
As I write this, early albums from Journey are shuffling on my media player.
Don’t judge me.
Music has always been the first passion in my life. From a young age when I would play a 45-rpm record over and over again until it drove my mother nuts, I remember discovering the thrill of playing brass instruments, weathering the label of “band geek” in high school, and playing literally coast to coast with one of the largest college marching bands in the country. Beyond that, I remember the excitement I felt whenever I discovered a new band I hadn’t heard before.
Currently, there are several television shows that are designed to bring music to the masses in unique ways. The longest running live performance show, Austin City Limits has been a staple of public television since 1976. Featuring live performances from plenty of bands in the mainstream, and also giving newer artists who have made a name for themselves a platform to be heard, this program has opened the eyes and ears of many music lovers to the power and wonder of live performance. Most recently, the continuing variety has featured Punch Brothers, Arcade Fire, The Civil Wars, Florence + The Machine, Coldplay, Flogging Molly, The Steve Miller Band, and Ghostland Observatory. Since 2011, the performances have been held and recorded at the purpose-built Moody Theatre in Austin, and the colorful skyline artwork behind the artists has become a staple of the show’s look.
In 2012, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame established a partnership with KLRU, the station that manages the production of the show, to make the previous 40 years of recordings of Austin City Limits available to the public for the first time, and will continue to do so in perpetuity, allowing music fans of all generations to have access to this slice of American television and music history.
Live from the Artists Den carries the tradition set by ACL, but ups the ante a bit in its delivery. Filmed in high-definition, using a larger variety of artistically-staged shots, this program is setting itself apart as a high-quality feature program. Now in its 6th season, and also broadcasting on public television, this program has featured passionate performances from Soundgarden, Mumford & Sons, The National, Ed Sheeran, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, Norah Jones, Adele, and others.
The focus of the program is to feature musicians playing in non-traditional settings, such as the New York Public Library, a Masonic temple, Graceland, and a theater that was built in the 1930s to show silent movies. Each episode is distinctly set up to feature the venue as part of the performance aesthetic, and the crowds are selected by invitation only from the show’s mailing list.
Begun as a free monthly web show back in 2007, Live from Daryl’s House is a showcase for legendary pop musician Daryl Hall (remember Hall & Oates?) to connect with other musicians that he respects, recording sessions in his home studio. The idea was birthed out of one of the simplest ideas: making music with your friends, and putting the result on the internet for people to enjoy. This is what Hall originally intended when he began these seemingly impromptu (of course, they aren’t) recordings of performances 6 years ago.
When someone that is part of the number-one selling duo in the music industry asks you to play at his house so he can record it and put it online, are you going to say no? Besides, when you spend time hanging out instead of just playing music, it gives the experience a more rounded feel. So yeah, if Daryl Hall ever calls me one day and says, “You wanna hang out?”, I’m on a plane.
Because these three programs dedicate their broadcasts to acts that have established themselves in some way, the macro level, there are other programs that give us the micro level of performance. Saturday Night Live, Conan, The Tonight Show, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Late Show with David Letterman, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon… shows like this all give artists a chance to play one, maybe two songs to a nationwide audience on network television. Honestly, these programs are some of the only shows I watch on any of the big 3 networks anymore, simply because there’s so much more interesting programming on cable stations that take my attention.
But to me, what sets these variety shows apart is that since the artists are only playing one or two songs, they have the opportunity to showcase new artists how are making a splash but HAVEN’T been established yet. I remember the first time I saw Arcade Fire was on Conan O’Brien’s former NBC late night show. Andrew W.K. blew my socks off when his band performed on Saturday Night Live before his first album, I Get Wet was released. Even though the song featured in a crap movie, Sean “Puffy/P.Diddy/DiddlySquat” Combs and Jimmy Page performed “Come With Me” on SNL in one of the most electric showcases ever seen in Studio 8H. And Jimmy Kimmel broke new ground by having MuteMath recreate their reverse-motion video for the song “Typical” live on stage.
There are certain things you can’t recapture, and experiencing programs like this have always helped me freak out with my geek out.
So I put it to you — what musical performance on a TV program made you sit up and take notice? Did you discover a new band? Did you witness a collaboration of 2 or more musicians that blew your mind? And who would you like to see perform on TV if you had your choice?
Feel free to leave your comments, thoughts, and ponderings below.