Chicago band Empires makes network debut on 'Letterman'

Chicago indie rock band Empires performs on "Late Show with David Letterman" June 17, 2014.

Don’t ask singer Sean Van Vleet what David Letterman said to him when his indie rock band Empires performed on CBS’s “Late Show” Tuesday. The Des Plaines native and Pilsen neighborhood resident doesn’t remember.

“It was a blur,” Van Vleet said over the phone Wednesday. “The quickest two minutes and 50 seconds of my life. It was super fast.”

The video shows Letterman giving the group the standard “Nice job, gentlemen” following the performance. Van Vleet said one of his bandmates told him “Letterman” musical director Paul Shaffer, on the other hand, approached afterward and compared Empires with British rockers Roxy Music, which Van Vleet thought was very flattering.

The Chicago band received some mainstream attention when it made the final four of Rolling Stone magazine’s “Choose the cover” contest in 2011. The contest rewarded one unsigned band the cover of the magazine and an Atlantic Records contract. Still, Tuesday’s performance was the group’s first time performing on network TV. The four members of the band had been waiting for this day ever since they received the good news from their manager three months ago while on the road dining at a Bob Evans.

“We grew up watching bands perform on the show,” Van Vleet said. “That was always our favorite part of the show. We still watch pretty frequently. When you’re touring, you get back to your hotel and it’s on. It was pretty surreal (that we got to be the musical guests).”

As for the Rolling Stone contest, Van Vleet said he doesn’t look back and wonder “What if?” The group was apprehensive about taking part in the first place and he said he is happy the experience ended when it did. Van Vleet also feels that was the old version of Empires and said the change in drummer gave the band “finesse” and a “more evolved” sound.

On Tuesday, Empires will take the stage at the House of Blues. The 101.1 FM WKQX-sponsored show is free if you RSVP beforehand.

Empires – which released its new EP, “How Good Does it Feel?” this past Tuesday and expects to release its full-length album in the fall – taped its “Letterman” performance in the afternoon and opted to watch it when it aired that night at a bar in New York’s Williamsburg neighborhood. That’s when Van Vleet said it finally hit him what had just taken place.

“There were maybe 15 people in the bar,” Van Vleet said. “It was pretty empty, but it was pretty awesome. The bar cut the music when we came on. That was the moment where I was like ‘Oh (crap), it’s happening.’ But not before that. The whole bar – all 15 people there – got up and someone bought us drinks. It was pretty cool. I probably won’t watch it again. I don’t think it’s going to beat being at that bar watching it.”

Empires and SomeKindaWonderful

When: 6 p.m. Tuesday
Where: House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn Street
Tickets: $10.11 general admission, houseofblues.com/chicago; free with RSVP

lgomez@tribune.com | Twitter @TribLuis | Facebook @TribLuis | Instagram @TribLuis

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