Tuned In: tUnE-yArDs Gives Christina Perri A Run For Her Money (With Help From The Roots)

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We’re not sure how to explain the glut of great performances on television last night, but we’re certainly not complaining. We actually recommend checking them all out (links below the cut), but we couldn’t even pick just one highlight. To be sure, when The Late Show with David Letterman wrapped up, we thought we had just seen the best of the night. Christina Perri, fresh off a tour with James Blunt (and clearly much more confident as a showperson) turned in an impressive performance of her Top 20 Countdown contender and #24 most-streamed-of-2011 single “Arms.” Why, you might wonder, were we so impressed by a three-month-old single on Letterman? Quite frankly, because her touring experience has stepped her performance game up by an order of magnitude. Before her serendipitous Dancing with the Stars breakthrough, her storied performance history was almost exclusively solo guitar-and-vocal shows, but the Perri who performed on television late night was a pianist and a bandleader, with a rhythm section in the pocket, and able to add a jaunty lilt to her love ballad (getting the audience to clap along, even) without modifying the song’s tempo. (We’re a sucker for tone shifts, because they suggest a wider range and further depths of talent.)

There wasn’t a dud in the entire night’s lineup of musical performances (though the Jimmy Kimmel Live! booker really gave the talented ukelele player Jake Shimabukuro a tough break by scheduling him opposite a whole slate of much better-known artists, and on Kimmel‘s first show since Lady Gaga‘s appearance last Thursday). Even still, Perri’s performance set the bar for the evening. Then tUnE-yArDs appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and, dare we say, raised it.

We’re not exactly surprised that tUnE-yArDs impressed the Fallon crowd with “Gangsta,” because the band’s live show has impressed us—not to mention the crowd at this year’s Pitchfork Musical Festival—in the past. To match a nuanced performance by a You Oughta Know artist who’s clearly only gotten better, though, tUnE-yArDs needed to do more than just sound good on television. So how about getting ?uestlove‘s help to turn the instrumental break in “Gangsta” into a free-jazzy hip-hop beat for Black Thought, also of The Roots, to rap over? That’s enough for us to keep it in the running!

Whose performance was better? (Or does one of the other performances listed below top both?) Let us know in the comments!

Elsewhere on late night:

Conan: Pitbull, “Hey Baby”/”Give Me Everything” (plus three web exclusives)
The Tonight Show with Jay Leno: Matt Nathanson, “Faster”
Jimmy Kimmel Live!: Jake Shimabukuro, “Bring Your Adz”
Lopez Tonight: Colbie Caillat, “Brighter Than the Sun” (This episode also featured Lopez and guest Aaron Paul huffing voice-changing gas and singing “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.”)

Christina Perri — “Arms” 8/1 Letterman [The Audio Perv]

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