David Letterman (John P. Filo/Associated…)
About halfway through Monday night’s hilarious "Late Show with David Letterman," which was recorded without an audience due to the impending arrival of Hurricane Sandy, Letterman cut to an image of the battered construction crane dangling over 57th Street. After a few erectile dysfunction jokes and Letterman asking whether the staff could “maybe send somebody over there” to help out, bandleader Paul Schaffer offered to do something heroic.
“You want me to go over and just stand underneath it?” asked Shaffer, who as musical director and sidekick was the star of the show, filling in for an entire audience by responding to Letterman’s wit.
In addition to cracking wise with Letterman throughout the hour and helping run an understaffed and memorable show, Shaffer and the band offered storm-themed music leading in and out of commercial breaks. Among them: “Windy” by the Association, Neil Young’s “Like a Hurricane,” and Fleetwood Mac's subtly effective “Rihannon,” about a woman “taken by the wind.”
The musical guest was New Yorker Paul Banks, and before Letterman brought him out to close the show, he held up the cover of the Interpol lead singer’s new solo album, "Banks." It features a shot of a skyline on an overcast day and bears a striking similarity to the image of the swaying crane Letterman had been discussing all night.
Letterman noted the coincidence: “This album is sort of what it looks and feels like in New York City today. It’s all sort of misty, foggy, mysterious, with just a hint of danger -- especially when you add the dangling crane. Our next guest is the lead singer of Dangling Crane -- no, no, no, I’m mistaken.”
Dressed in black, Banks and his band performed “Young Again," a love song from the new album. Like much of Banks' work both solo and with Interpol, the song typifies a dissonant, dark New York City that rose after the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001. “Turn on the Bright Lights,” Interpol’s 2002’s breakout album, was recorded two months after Sept. 11, and you can hear the post-traumatic darkness all over it.
But Banks’ performance of “Young Again” felt like a missed opportunity. By doing a less menacing love song instead of one of a few darker, more prescient works from his new album, he failed to harness the tense electricity of the moment. (Watch the video below.)
After all, in addition to the eerily similar cover, two songs on his new record, “Arise, Awake” and “No Mistakes,” feature lines about the sky above and courage amid uncertainty. “Be great and no mistakes/Be brave and show no fear around me/I believe in my eyes/And something just fell from the sky,” Banks sings on "No Mistakes." His next line is a perfect New York moment: “I don’t know what will happen next, but I’ll wait for you.”
Granted, Banks had his own reasons to pick one song over another, and Monday morning quarterbacking such a choice during a tense moment may be ill-advised (especially by an Angeleno). But Letterman, Shaffer, and the rest of the "Late Show" staff had set the stage for something magical, and from here it felt like Banks didn't deliver.