Ladies and gentlemen, I today give you Bright Eyes, the most potent thing to hail from Omaha, Nebraska since Strategic Air Command. A song I stumbled upon by accident, flipping the channels idly until I arrived at the very performance recorded here live on David Letterman, back when Letterman had a show, which always featured superlative musical guests. I was riveted.
Letterman broadcast from the old Ed Sullivan theatre, and when it came to musical acts he imposed the same strictures as Ed always did: it had to be live, no lip-synching, no overdubs. You’ll see in this clip how the band more than rose to the challenge of performing this compelling, highly ambitious, deliciously complex song, with its layers of strings, keyboards, guitars, flutes, several varieties of percussion, and backing vocals all mixed perfectly in what struck me as a something akin to a cross between Strawberry Fields Forever and Street Fighting Man. Speaking of hybrids, pay special attention to the woman on drums, apparently the product of a spectacularly successful genetic experiment to mix the best attributes of Charlie Watts and Keith Moon; she’s rock-steady when she needs to be, and just slams the kit with wild abandon when the song calls for it, and only when the song calls for it. Black eyes to the moron in the booth who made the directorial decision to give her short shrift – you only catch glimpses of her in the wide angle shots, when it would have been better if she’d been the focus of attention.
Special mention too for the second female percussionist who sings backup while alternating between bongos, maracas, tambourine, and xylophone, and the guy who whales away on lead guitar despite being, by all appearances, a mild-mannered certified public accountant. Plus – I always make note of this when it’s in evidence – they know how to bring a song to a tidy, satisfying conclusion.
This is art rock in the best sense, hard-driving and infused with genuine gravitas, and a song that anybody could be happy to claim as the culmination of a career. They don’t write ’em like they used to, except on those odd occasions when they do.