TV’s Most Surreal Music Performances: Beck, Thurston Moore and Mike D
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Beck was just 23 and still two months away from busting into the Top 10 with ‘Loser’ when he popped up on ‘120 Minutes’ for a totally bizarre appearance with guest host Thurston Moore on Feb. 20, 1994.
Not only did MTV still play music videos back in the early ’90s, but the network even had an entire show dedicated to showcasing two hours of the biggest and best of the alternative-rock nation — albeit a show situated in the broadcasting ghetto of a time slot late on Sunday night (actually Monday morning) from midnight until — you guessed it — 2AM.
Still, at a time when the mainstream’s notion of alternative rock had finally branched out from U2 and R.E.M. to include grunge bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam, indie acts like the Pixies and Moore’s Sonic Youth and others, ‘120 Minutes’ served as an important conduit for relatively obscure bands to gain wider exposure with a national audience. A quick look at ‘120’ playlists from the era shows up-and-comers Helmet, P.J. Harvey and the Afghan Whigs were in heavy rotation.
British VJ Dave Kendall was still hosting back then, but the show frequently had guest hosts from the music world, and indie-rock hero Moore was a popular one. He had a thick Rolodex of fellow rockers to bring on the show with him, so it wasn’t a big surprise that he tapped Mike D to visit ahead of the release of the Beastie Boys‘ fourth album, ‘Ill Communication,’ due that spring.
Ahead of Mike D was the solo appearance of Beck, who had recently parlayed some underground hype for his slacker anthem ‘Loser’ into a record deal for ‘Mellow Gold,’ his major-label debut album that was set to drop the following month. Beck used the ‘120 Minutes’ stint to showcase his unabashedly weird side, sitting down for an interview with Moore that included lots of sarcastic answers, awkward pauses, Dada-ist boot tossing and little in the way of normalcy. Actually, it’s hard to tell if he was playing his bohemian bozo card or just really bored.
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What followed the interview was three minutes of insanity that certainly should be included on any ‘120 Minutes’ highlight reel: The impromptu performance by Beck, Mike D and Moore is one for the ages. The Sonic Youth guitarist does his trademark skronky noise-rock thing (scraping the strings of his guitar through effects pedals) while D busts out some lazy-ass rhymes and Beck plays random samples through a micro-cassette deck. Talk about the skills to pay the bills.
Sure, it’s not the most artistically inspired performance to ever grace the ‘120 Minutes’ stage, but it is one of the more bizarre ones — and it was definitely one of the most memorable. Beck was probably already being dismissed as a one-hit wonder at the time. Who knew that more than two decades later he’d be a critically acclaimed artist with millions in sales and a handful of Grammys under his belt?