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Late-night TV is a timely gig for musicians

Paul McCartney doesn't need publicity, but when he wants to, he sure can make a dent. On Monday, he and his band appeared on "Jimmy Kimmel Live" and shut down a stretch of Hollywood Boulevard when they performed for a lucky few thousand at the late-night show's outdoor stage. Many in the crowd waited most of the day for a chance to catch the ex-Beatle in action.

Tuesday night, Justin Timberlake was set to take the Kimmel stage and drew JT obsessives born long after the Beatles disbanded. It was the second of a double-barreled shot that underscored the Kimmel show's increasing influence. What the two music stars shared were devoted fans eager to watch, chat and tweet.


FOR THE RECORD:
Music on late-night TV: An article in the Sept. 25 Calendar section about music on late-night TV shows such as "Jimmy Kimmel Live" identified Joel Amsterdam as Concord Music Group's senior vice president of marketing. He is the senior vice president of publicity. —


The twin concerts highlighted the shifting the goal of late-night TV music gigs from one of immediate gratification — perform a song that will lead to sales the next day — to a part of a multifaceted, slow-building campaign.

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"One way to stand out on late-night TV, when it comes to major artists, is the ability to do event-type programming like we did with Paul," says Joel Amsterdam, senior vice president of marketing for the Concord Music Group, which will release McCartney's forthcoming album "New." "Late night has the ability to turn an ordinary appearance to a memorable, special event. They are great partners in that way, really helping to promote the event socially as well."

Monday, with their smartphones aimed and Kimmel's pre-show emcee Don Barris priming the crowd to tweet early and often with the hashtag #mccartneyonkimmel, the fans did what Amsterdam predicted — snapping, Facebooking, tweeting and screaming the moment McCartney walked on the stage. In the process, they built buzz for both the show and the musician.

As a sort of reward, McCartney, flanked by the El Capitan and Dolby theaters, promoted "New" by doing a few songs for TV, then stuck around for a set that included older songs fans wanted to hear.

The timing was mutually beneficial: Monday was the first night of the fall 2013 TV season, and Kimmel was pushing McCartney as a way to snag ratings, in the process adding another name to the show's impressive, and increasingly well-rounded, roster of musical guests.

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Considering that an artist of McCartney's stature can cherry-pick his gigs, the Kimmel choice, as well as the scheduling — nearly three weeks before the release of "New" — were notable. In January, the ABC show was advanced a half-hour to compete against "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Late Show With David Letterman" in the 11:35 p.m. slot. With the shift, the competition for bigger-ticket guests among the three shows has become more intense.

Kimmel's show had a head start. In the midnight slot, his music booker, Scott Igoe, threw similar Hollywood Boulevard block parties for Lady Gaga, Coldplay and Depeche Mode. On other stages, the show hosted Adele, Drake, Nicki Minaj, Lady Antebellum, Lil Wayne and hundreds of others.

But the McCartney-Timberlake double shot was one of the biggest blasts yet.

"There are certain shows that can be especially helpful from a viral perspective," says Amsterdam, who works with bookers from all late-night shows but declined to comment on the benefits of any specific show over another. "Even if a clip doesn't have a viral purpose in real time, it does provide you with a useful tool going forward as part of a bigger publicity campaign."

The timing of McCartney's performance is the perfect illustration. Had the goal been sales, his gig would have been poorly timed. The record doesn't come out for nearly three weeks, so a next-day sales bump wasn't a goal. But clips of his concert were all over the Internet on Tuesday morning, and they will continue to bounce for days.

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Kimmel's arrival is the culmination of a fascinating path to musical late-night prime time, one that built its reputation through tasteful booking and an understanding of virality. While Letterman, Leno and Conan O'Brien focused their music performances on rock, R&B, pop and country-based bookings, "Jimmy Kimmel Live" in its formative years was booking hip-hop and cutting-edge rock for a demographic long ignored by the baby boomer hosts, kicking down a door that Arsenio Hall had cracked years before.

Kimmel's show, in fact, is something of a bellwether in the time slot. When Jimmy Fallon assumes Leno's chair next year, he'll bring with him his excellent backing band the Roots, who rose from live hip-hop act to late-night musical heroes. Like Kimmel, Fallon's focus is on the young, and his show has mastered the art of the viral video. The days of guitar-based hegemony are numbered, even as opportunities for weeknight television exposure have increased.

When this week is over, for example, McCartney, Timberlake, Metallica, Drake, Cher, Kings of Leon, Avril Lavigne, MGMT, Goodie Mobb, Atoms for Peace and others will have appeared on late-night shows including the big three, Fallon, "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," "The Colbert Report" and "Chelsea Lately."

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Few understand the value of television more than McCartney, whose first appearance with the Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show" was the Big Bang of the television era. His performance on Hollywood Boulevard certainly didn't change culture, but his set list was full of big-ticket songs. He and his touring band tore through Beatles classics "Hey Jude," "Let It Be," "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Magical Mystery Tour," "Birthday," "Lady Madonna" and more, and peppered in solo and Wings songs such as "Band on the Run," "Another Day," "Jet" and three "New" works, including the excellent title track.

Ever gracious and warm, McCartney long ago accepted his role in his fans' lives, and made every effort to acknowledge the masses surrounding him. He peered up at the nearby Dolby Theatre, where on a balcony a dozen fans watched, and waved dramatically. Fans snapped shots. Residents of upper-level offices sat in windowsills and took photos — then tweeted them later. Others rubbernecked from behind fences.

In fact, after performing a confident version of one of his most enduring works, "Let It Be," McCartney stood from the grand piano and looked over a fence to wave at fans unable to see.

It was a private moment missed by most — at least until someone uploads it.

randall.roberts@latimes.com

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Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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