TV’s Most Surreal Music Performances: Radiohead
Nothing screamed “summertime sadness” back in the ’90s quite like kicking it at the MTV Beach House, surrounded by sun-kissed college co-eds wearing backward baseball caps and cut-off jean shorts … and watching some mopey, pasty-faced British dudes rocking the f— out with a song about deep-seeded alienation and heart-breaking despair.
Radiohead were just an up-and-coming buzz-bin band known for ‘Creep’ — an alt-rock anthem that perfectly captured the cultural zeitgeist of Gen-X angst — when on July 4,1993, they plugged in poolside at the MTV Beach House in Quogue, N.Y., for a two-song set that at the time was surely both one of the most awkward and most electrifying performances of their then-young career. It was nine gigs into Radiohead’s first-ever tour of the States.
The band’s days of platinum albums, automatic Grammy nominations and near-universal critical acclaim were still a couple albums and several years away — ‘OK Computer’ wouldn’t come out until 1997 — but with ‘Creep’ steadily making its way up the charts, it really wasn’t odd that MTV looked to capitalize on the band’s early success by booking it for a live appearance.
What made the whole thing so damn weird was simply the venue choice: the Beach House — MTV’s shrine to frat-boy hedonism and bikini-clad dancing — was pretty much the last place on Earth one would expect to encounter these morose Brits.
Looking like an albino vampire with bleach-blonde locks and hiding in plain sight behind dark shades, Thom Yorke couldn’t have been more out of place if he tried. When his soaring baritone reached the ‘Creep’ chorus (“I’m a creep / I’m a weirdo / What the hell am I doing here? / I don’t belong here“) it almost seemed as if Yorke couldn’t be singing about anything but his current situation, as if he were making up the lyrics on the spot. The audience responded in kind, applauding politely but showing little in the way of real interest.
But Yorke and the boys persevered, following ‘Creep’ with a version of second ‘Pablo Honey’ single ‘Anyone Can Play Guitar’ (which you can watch below) that showed off the group’s louder and looser side, with Ed O’Brien churning out waves of over-driven fuzz from his hollow-body Rickenbacker and Johnny Greenwood repeatedly stabbing riffs from the strings of his Telly.
By the time Yorke fell into a screaming fit in the middle of the tune, the crowd was actually clapping and tapping along in appreciation. When he finally leaped head-first into the pool during an extended outro of dissonant feedback, a roar of approval came over the crowd.
It was almost as if they belonged there after all.