Thom Yorke and co on Amnesiac, OK Computer and "two-month" meltdowns
Early signs had been mixed. On June 8, Radiohead played the Tibetan Freedom concert in New York followed by an Irving Plaza gig attended by R.E.M., Madonna, U2, Blur, Courtney Love and Lenny Kravitz. O’Brien moved Madonna to make sure his mother had the best table in the house. But at their next show, previewing mostly new material at the KROQ “weenie roast” in LA, they were booed offstage. Yorke exploded at the crowd, branding them “fucking mindless”.
Released on June 16 in Britain and July 1 in the US, the reviews for OK Computer were beyond hysterical: “The first album of the 21st century… The world’s most important, innovative band… The Beatles’ true heirs… The first British band since The Smiths to move rock onwards and upward.” At the Barcelona album launch, Jonny Greenwood glumly mused: “Journalists like it, which is always ominous.” Yorke added, “Oh shit, now we’re in trouble.”
“We were so insecure,” says O’Brien four years on. “The only reaction we’d had at that stage apart from the UK was the Americans calling it commercial suicide. We needed those good reviews and record sales. We were nervy because we hadn’t gone for the easy option; we hadn’t gone for The Bends Part 2.”
Glastonbury 1997 caught Radiohead in the grip of both triumph and adversity. Yorke was blinded by stage lights, his monitors blown, buzzing and vibrating like a human lightning conductor. He “played six songs to a pitch-black wall of nothingness” and almost left the stage.
“The lights on the floor just burned Thom’s eyes out so he couldn’t see anyone or hear anything,” Colin Greenwood recalls. “He started to make mistakes and miscues and nearly walked offstage, but Jonny and Ed basically talked him out of it. He didn’t have any monitors for the encores, which is amazing. So we have very mixed feelings. But if we’d done that a year before, we would have definitely left the stage – our career in ruins.”
Headlining Glastonbury was one of the most powerful and certainly one of the most significant performances in Radiohead’s career to date. It was also the point where everything started to go supernova – and off the rails. Following more monitor trouble at the Torhout festival in Belgium in July, Yorke lambasted the “special people” in the crowd and stormed offstage. He began freezing up when “Creep” was mentioned in interviews and refused requests to play it live. “Fuck off, we’re tired of it,” he bawled at a Montréal audience. Fans who demanded old favourites were dismissed as “anally retarded”.