Live Last Night: Beastie Boys

Pop history's most influential novelty act, the Beastie Boys, brought the noise and the chuckles to the 9:30 club on Monday.

The Beasties' early material, which was both plagiarized and mimicked, remains its most beloved. Fans showed off their diminished vertical leaps during a club-wide hop-fest on "No Sleep till Brooklyn." That 1986 tune was built around a guitar riff the band of New York 40-somethings - Adam "MCA" Yauch, Mike "Mike D" Diamond, Adam "Ad Rock" Horowitz -- and producer Rick Rubin originally borrowed from AC/DC. The song, filched parts and all, then helped launch the whole rap/metal genre.

Hipness doesn't often age well. So while the shrewd musical samplings hold up just fine, the pop culture references in Beasties songs that came off as old school cool when they were first rapped have been rendered merely obscure by time. "Sure Shot" had the MCs boasting, "And I've got mad hits like I was Rod Carew!" On "Pass the Mic" they bragged "I'm Like Jimmy Walker, I'm Dynomite!" Rod Carew? Jimmy Walker? The kids today couldn't feel in on the jonesing without first consulting Wikipedia. But on this night, with so many old heads in the crowd, the name-droppings brought knowing and nostalgic grins.

Along with the braggadocio, the Beasties' rhymes offered enough humor and puns to keep everybody giggling. "Super Disco Breakin'" is surely the only tune ever written that dared to pair "soft spoken" and "pannenkoeken" (Dutch for "pancakes). The club filled with smiles when, as a tribute to Martin Luther King, the boys asked the crowd to put one finger in the air and yell "Fresh!"

The concert was put on by the non-profit and ostensibly non-partisan Rock the Vote, and probably for tax-exemption reasons politics were absent from the stage banter. The Beasties, who spent most of the night rapping over recorded tracks manipulated by turntablist Mix Master Mike, plugged in instruments, and offered their only semi-political statement of the set, in dedicating another rap-metal prototype, 1994's "Sabotage," to George W. Bush. Everybody joined in for the song's climactic primal scream: "Whyyyyyyy?"

Opener Sheryl Crow seemed itching to rant. Crow got into a famous public spat around here in 2007 while confronting Karl Rove at a White House Correspondents Dinner. (She wanted to talk to Rove about the Bush administration's stance on global warming but was later savaged by late-night comedians for suggesting - she insists it was sarcasm - that Americans should be rationed just one sheet of toilet paper per day.)

But instead of between-tune tirades, Crow, looking toned and tough in a tight Mickey Mouse T-shirt with its sleeves rolled up, delivered a set front-loaded with message songs - "A Change Will Do You Good," "Can't Cry Anymore," and "Hard to Make a Stand" among them.

The messages were better than the songs, alas.


By J. Freedom du Lac |  January 20, 2009; 12:30 PM ET Inauguration , Live Last Night
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