In the later half of the ’90s, MTV and NYC went together like peanut butter and fluff. At the networks height, the youth of America would constantly flock to MTV Studios in Times Square to see various stars, shows, and events from either a seat right next to Carson Daly or just a glimpse from out on the street. The Big Apple was the perfect spot for Music Television, a channel for the young and restless, to rendezvous and party. Naturally, in the ’90s, MTV received the up-close scoop to most shows in the area and, as a result, were able to capture live performances with ease. A classic and lost gem from their programing has to be performance of OK Computer, live on the 10 Spot from New Yorks . And thanks to the power of the internet, we are able to witness this document, which is just as startling to any Radiohead fan now as it was when it happened.
You have to remember that in December of 1997 Radiohead wasn’t the worldwide juggernaut it is today. This is impossible for me to imagine, seeing as since sixth grade, puberty, and Kid A, they have been the only band that anybody told me to keep an eye on (Rolling Stone, my douchebag friend Keith, the internet, Paul Rudd in Clueless). Nowadays, some people scoff when I tell them Radiohead is one of my favorite bands, as it seems typical, but back in 1997, it wasn’t such a familiar ideology. However, Radiohead rocked the world via the 10 Spot, a point on MTVs programing most known for its adult style content (e.g. UnDressed, the lamest sexual-themed show ever created). Again, keep in mind that OK Computer was still new to the world.
Any viewer watching these videos has to be excited when they hear the first words of Fitter Happier playing over the PA at the Hammerstein. The relatively small crowd (atleast for Radiohead) goes ape shit, and suddenly the lights turn back on while Thom Yorke and company play Airbag. Jonny Greenwood makes some noises with bizarre keyboards at random points while Phil Selway just looks like Billy Corgan. Yorke is thinner and healthier than ever as he shrieks the lyrics to the song. At the close, he lets loose a shrill and angered cry while Greenwood slams the epic final notes to the song. And this is just the first song of the night.
A few OK Computer classics follow such as a haunting version of Karma Police (if you notice about halfway through the song, Yorke has just about the most evil smirk on his face), as well a quiet version of Exit Music (For a Film) that sounds just as powerful back then as it does today. They also play a frantic version of The Bends which starts with the crowd freaking out to Yorkes announcement that they are about to play it. Greenwood literally tears through the song as he breaks multiple strings on purpose to make the guitar sound crazier, while Yorke screams in his epileptic rock out fashion.
The audience then gets to hear amazing and rare performances, including a cut of live staple Talk Show Host, which here they act like a pop-punk band at the start of the new millennium. You can’t ignore the energy they’re creating, though. It’s so full of life and intensity, especially as they bash the final chords to the song. But soon after, the set gets ever rarer when the band plays, one of my personal favorites, Subterranean Homesick Alien”. Hearing this song live is glorious — as it is a song they havent played on-stage in almost seven years. They waste no time either upon the songs end and go into My Iron Lung, and it’s here where the difference in Radiohead is truly notable. At the bridge of the song, the crowd starts to mosh. This is unlike most Radiohead shows now where nobody dances (until Idioteque comes on). The crowd is so jacked up on art-rock to the point where its almost absurd. Hey, nobody ever moshed for Lou Reed back in the day.
From then on, the band bounces back and forth between songs off The Bends and OK Computer. No complaining here. Climbing Up the Walls sounds just like every bad acid trip ever. The band plays the most colossal version of Bones”, complete with Colin Greenwood laying down the bass line that makes it sound slicker than the studio cut. Paranoid Android looks nothing short of musical theater, and the audience screams like the Spice Girls just walked out when Yorke announces the song. As if things couldnt get any better, Radiohead sonically impairs your mind with Fake Plastic Trees followed by Street Spirit (Fade Out) to signal an encore. The second performance is just as extraordinary as the last with a raw version of Electioneering and a closer of – Oh what could it be? – The Tourist. As the song fades into the final bit of drumming, a quick glimpse of Yorke can be seen swaying back and forth, and just for a brief moment, you can catch the contorted icon with a satisfied smile on his face.
Sometime around Planet Telex, I was trying to figure out why Radiohead has been awesome for all these years. It’s been 13 years since this show and while a lot has changed, some things havent. I think if any Radiohead fan saw that exact same set, in that same environment, and the show was also being broadcasted on live cable today, it would still have just as much of an impact on the listener. Back then, they were just a new age rock band, but Radiohead sounds just as fresh and amazing now as they did when they were coming to grips with success and age, and their songs are equally as powerful in our modern society. If you dont believe me on this matter, just look at the Apple sticker Yorke has on his guitar, which serves as a kind of metaphor. Apple owns our technology, Radiohead owns our airwaves, and I guarantee at least one Radiohead fan in that Hammerstein crowd is now an Apple employee. Time has gone by, the music game has changed completely, but one thing has remained the same: Radiohead reigns supreme no matter what they do.