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Music

Revisit Beastie Boys' explosive performance of 'Sabotage' on Letterman in 1994

@SamWKemp

Looking for proof that Beastie Boys owned the 1990s? Look no further. In 1994, Beastie Boys starred as the musical guest on Letterman and went on to perform one of the best set’s the long-running chat show has ever seen: a rendition of their Ill Communication cut ‘Sabotage’. To this day, this slice of adrenaline-fueled punk-hop (or should that be hip-punk?) is more than capable of convincing even the most law-abiding citizen to conduct wild acts of vandalism.

By the time they appeared on Letterman, Beastie Boys had already been around for eight years or so. Comprised of a group of unassuming middle-class Jewish kids, Beastie Boys began their life as a hardcore punk outfit, later evolving into a trio featuring MCA, Mike D and Adrock. After singing to Def Jam recordings, releasing a few 12-inch singles, and embarking on a fleeting tour supporting Madonna, they emerged from Manhattan’s downtown underground scene and stepped into the mainstream, their blend of heavy guitar riffs and hard-hitting beats earning them a dedicated fanbase and critical acclaim.

By the 1990s, Beastie Boys were one of the most successful groups in America. On release, their 1992 album Check Your Head peaked at number ten and was later certified double platinum. By this time, they’d founded their own label, Grand Royal, and signed all manner of artists, including Luscious Jackson, Sean Lennon and Ben Lee. To advertise their artists, they also published Grand Royal Magazine, the first edition of which was published in 1993 and featured artwork by George Clinton. As well as containing interviews with the likes of MC Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest, the 1995 issue of Grand Royal boasted an article about the mullet, in which the writer references The Beastie Boy’s 1994 track ‘Mullet Head’, which is often cited as popularising the term, despite the hairstyle having fallen out of fashion by that time.

In 1994, Beastie Boys were soaring high at the top of the charts after Ill Communication debuted at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the R&B/hip hop album charts. The album’s lead single ‘Sabotage’, accompanied by its iconic Spike Lee-directed video, became an instant classic, cementing Beastie Boys as a mainstay in both rock and hip-hop worlds. That same year, the boys headlined at Lollapalooza, where they appeared alongside the likes of The Smashing Pumpkins, George Clinton & the P-Funk All-Stars, The Breeders, A Tribe Called Quest, Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds, and Green Day.

This clip of Beastie Boys performing ‘Sabotage’ reminds us just how brilliant a party band the trio was. Even under the harsh studio lights, they are positively levitating with energy. With nearly 30 years between us and this footage, it’s frankly astonishing that the thrill of Beastie Boys’ live show is still palpable. Astonishing, but certainly not surprising.