What it's actually like to perform on David Letterman

Photo By Allison LaBonne

When Jeremy Messersmith was invited to play Late Show with David Letterman recently, he brought his 10-piece band along with him to perform Heart Murmurs standout "Bubblin'" to its largest audience yet.

Gimme Noise asked Messersmith's guitarist Brian Tighe (The Starfolk/The Owls/The Hang Ups) to keep track of his insider experiences leading up to the show, as well as his overall thoughts on the performance itself. He kept a detailed journal of the New York adventure. Also included is violinist Jesse Peterson's harrowing account of losing luggage that almost derailed their plans to play Letterman with the band.

See also:
Jeremy Messersmith plays "Bubblin'" on Letterman

Letterman Journal
by Brian Tighe

9:30 a.m. Tuesday morning: We gather for rehearsal. Jeremy is fresh off a series of solo house concerts, so this is the first time the 10-piece band has played together since Rock the Garden. We've been practicing individually to a version of "Bubblin'" edited down to 3:30 for television. We run the song and thankfully Jeremy is willing to play it many times. This is a relief. He's notorious within the band for not wanting to practice.

Photo By Pete Sieve

A couple weeks ago, the song choice was a surprise to us all. We assumed it would be one of the singles -- "Ghost" or "Tourniquet" -- but the producer at Letterman wanted "Bubblin'." I was thrilled. The song has such a climactic feel, I remember playing it at the record release show, feeling at a certain point during the epic bridge section like the entire band was levitating above the First Avenue stage. Would we be able to re-create that effect in the Ed Sullivan theater, on national TV?

After many song reps and pastries from Salty Tart, in high spirits, we pile into the van and head to airport.

Photo By Emily Allison

I meet up with Allison, my wife, at the La Guardia airport. Poor Erica and Jesse can't find their luggage and we stay with them for a little while, trying to figure it out [Editor's Note: Check Jesse's story at the end of the piece to see how their story played out]. There's nothing we can do, and I realize I really need to get some sleep before sound check. As the taxi driver drops us off I mention we're playing Letterman and he doesn't seem to care. Allison says later, "You know, you don't have to tell EVERYBODY you're playing on Letterman."

3:45 a.m. Wednesday morning: Ian, Andy, Pete, Dan, and I meet at the side door of the Ed Sullivan Theater for an absurdly early sound check. They are taping two shows today, so it has to be this way.

I wasn't able to get any sleep, so I'm in a sort of waking dream state. We enter the theater and I'm immediately struck by:

1. How very small the space is -- it looks so much bigger on TV!

2. The freshly buffed luminescent dream blue stage floor.

3. How freakin' cold it is! "Dave gets whatever he wants," one of the crew tells us, "He says it keeps the jokes fresh and the audience awake."

4. The model cityscape I've seen so many times through the window behind Letterman's desk standing before me, the ultimate childhood fantasy train set. I want to play with it, live in it for a little while.

Photo By Brian Tighe
Photo By Allison LaBonne

Soon enough, the crew leader shakes me out of this reverie. We'd been warned to wear thick skin when dealing with the supposedly jaded and irritable Letterman crew, and sure enough this individual seems annoyed with us.

"Where's the drum tech? Where's the guitar tech?" He turns to Ian, "Are you the tour manager?" We shake are heads, no, we're just the band. "You need HOW MANY vocal mics?" "Are you all really singing?" He turns to Andy, "You, the drummer, are you REALLY singing? WHAT are you singing?" Seems like we're in for a tough morning. Pete is shivering with his arms tucked inside his T-shirt and laments, "They said it would be cold, and I thought, 'Come on, how cold could it really be?'"

Ian sets up his bass amp and it's making an unwanted humming sound. "Do you know WHY the bass amp is humming?" the crew leader asks with a frown that actually... turns into a smile, "It doesn't know the words." We all laugh with nervous relief and it seems that someone's warming up to us in this chilly theater. "Don't worry," he says, "We'll take care of you. We'll make it work."

7 a.m.: Done with sound check. We have until 12:45, but I only manage to get a half hour of sleep. It's OK, the adrenaline is flowing, I still have plenty of energy. Allison and I manage to get lost on the subway, not wanting to pay for another taxi, but miraculously we make it back to the theater by 12:44.

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