Photo by Vanya Edwards
The Beastie Boys took Brooklyn by storm last week.
The return of New York’s native B-Boys
By Todd Simmons
The Beastie Boys entered the Soho House screening room last Thursday donning vintage suits, ties and dark glasses, ready for business. Resembling three hipster arms dealers, Adam “MCA” Yauch, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond took their seats at the table up front and proceeded to speak for several minutes through a non-working microphone. Once this was discovered, gales of laughter erupted from the press corps gathered for the roundtable discussion that were evidently hoping for such hijinx. There would be more laughter to follow. Especially when Mike D refuted once and for all that he was in any way blood related to Neil “the Jewish Elvis” Diamond or Dustin “Screech” Diamond. Although he claimed he was taken aback to discover that “Screech” has an alleged sex tape on the Internet.
New York City’s favorite sons were home from their tour to play three concerts last week at Central Park’s Summerstage, McCarren Park Pool in Williamsburg and a “Gala Event” at the Hammerstein Ballroom on 34th St. in support of their latest full-length release, The Mix-Up. The record is without raps or vocals of any kind, reminiscent of the instrumental songs from Check Your Head and Ill Communication where Ad Rock, MCA and Mike D play their own instruments with Money Mark on keyboards and Alfredo Ortiz on percussion.
The press conference ping-ponged between thoughtful answers to sensible questions and good-natured, witty retorts to absurd or clichéd ones. They said they were excited to play their first ever gig in Brooklyn since early ’80s band practice in MCA’s mother’s basement. One reporter asked a lengthy and meandering question that somehow was meant to explore how they felt about not inspiring more white rappers into prominent careers. The response from MCA was, “What about Vanilla Ice?” Mike D added,” What about Snow?” and on it went devolving into ludicrous banter from there until Ad Rock halted it, “Wait! I’d like to get back to the original question. Was it ‘do we consider ourselves special white people?’” And the room exploded in laughter. Asked if they are wearing suits all the time or if they just wore them for the press conference, Mike D confessed, “We are serving lunch next door later” and then referred to the movie screen behind them and said “but first today’s feature will be The Red Balloon.” And with that they were out the door.
They reappeared at McCarren Pool a few hours later for their first Brooklyn show ever and took the stage at 8:15 before a sold-out house. Ad Rock commenced the proceedings by stepping to the edge of the stage with his functioning microphone to bellow out the old familiar words from their 1986 debut album Licensed To Ill: “Hello Brooklyn!” And they were off, to a mighty roar of approval. With the innovative DJ Mix Master Mike laying down beats, the New York natives popped off classic hip-hop numbers like rapid fire, until the place was bouncing like the massive outdoor party that it was.
McCarren Park Pool has emerged as a terrific alternative venue with one exception. Despite the size of the capacity crowd, there was surprisingly ample elbow room on the floor of the semi-decayed pool thanks to the bungled beer distribution from the normally reliable Brooklyn Brewery. The understaffed beer tents were slow going with malfunctioning kegs and required 40 minutes to an hour for service, locking hundreds of audience members into watching the show from the sidelines while they grudgingly waited out the quagmire, thereby giving non-drinkers all the dance room they could hope for. By the time the Beastie Boys got to crowd favorite “Sure Shot” five songs into the set, many of the beer patrons had abandoned the line and rejoined the crowd empty-handed.
After a long run of rap tunes they picked up their instruments and delivered a set of instrumental lounge numbers and punk rock songs with Mike D on the mic from The Mix-Up, Check Your Head, Ill Communication and In Sounds From Way Out! They ably laid down lively grooves despite their lack of major league chops on bass, guitar and drums. They didn’t need to be master musicians to lift those songs off the ground however, since they are wise enough to have top-notch support on percussion and keyboards. With the dazzling nuances peppered in from DJ Mix Master Mike, this part of the set was a show unto itself and not just an interlude between hip-hop sets. Money Mark did phenomenal work on keyboards throughout the night but especially during that section of the show.
By the end of the night they’d performed material from every record and had shaken McCarren Pool with a finish of “Mix Master Mike’s Interlude,” “Intergalactic,” “Sabotage” and naturally, “No Sleep Til Brooklyn.” Having performed it in its namesake borough at last, it had somehow never sounded better. The show in general was the most entertaining concert to hit any of the boroughs this year. With their quick-witted kitschy rhymes, between-song patter and supremely innovative beats, it was a show not to be missed.
The following night’s gala event at the Hammerstein Ballroom came with instructions from the Beastie Boys on the tickets to “Dress To Impress” (one dollar from each ticket was going towards an EcoFund through ARIA and other causes throughout the tour). They wanted to see some upscale style at the show and when asked during the previous day’s roundtable what they would do if they saw the audience looking underdressed, they responded, “We will verbally ridicule you.” It seemed that enough of the crowd cleaned up to avoid such a scolding in the end, because there was nothing but good will from the stage.
What the audience did get was another night of total entertainment, but unfortunately this time without the astonishing skills of Mix Master Mike. Instead it was the boys on their instruments performing an entire show like the middle portion at McCarren Pool. After seeing both performances it has to be said that despite it being a louder indoor performance, the Hammerstein Ballroom lacked a little bit of the Brooklyn sizzle without the trio simultaneously prowling the stage and rockin’ the mic with their inimitable flair. The Friday night crowd was treated to a killer encore version of “Sabotage” however, which was worth the price of admission alone.