Even among the weirdest stories in Bob Dylan’s mythology, this is one of the weirder ones. In 1984, Dylan enlisted the Plugz, an L.A. post-punk band best remembered for their appearance on the Repo Man soundtrack, to back him as he promoted his recent album Infidels on Late Night.
They did so in style, first with a cover of “Don’t Start Me Talkin’” by Sonny Boy Williamson, and “License to Kill” and “Jokerman” off Infidels. “Jokerman,” in particular, kills. It sounds like the new wave blast it was perhaps always meant to be. The entire appearance follows a historic tendency for Dylan: his best musical impulses aren’t always reflected on his album cuts, but they tend to emerge in his live performances. Dylan had a long-running habit of shelving his best songs, only to let them slip out years later.
His involvement with the Plugz was never documented in the studio and never really explained. All we have is these appearances on Letterman—not that the host himself doesn’t appreciate it. At the conclusion of “Jokerman,” Dave asks Dylan, “Is there any chance you guys could be here every Thursday night?” and Dylan laughs and insincerely agrees.