Saturday, November 06, 2004

Three MC's* and One DJ (or: And Now for Something Completely Different)

Not everyone knows this, but my musical takes are, shall we say, eclectic. I adore the King’s College Choir, they are pure heaven, and I have developed a deep appreciation of sacred choral works in general. I believe Arvo Part and Henryk Gorecki are among the best contemporary composers, maybe among the best ever. Ralph Vaughn Williams and Sir Edward Elgar are well represented in my collection, as are the more conventional Mozart and Bach. I also love jazz, particularly Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, and Chet Baker. I have recently become especially fond of Diana Krall; her most recent album, although it breaks the mold set by her previous work, shows an emotional depth and maturity which shows that Ms. Krall is on her way to artistic greatness. I enjoy more popular music, especially Elvis Costello, Joe Jackson and Bob Dylan. I’m even beginning to appreciate roots music and bluegrass, since a friend plays mandolin in the band Open Road. Pretty diverse taste, no? But it goes farther, much farther:

One of my favorite bands of all time is the
Beastie Boys and Thursday night (11/4) my brother and I went to see the Chicago show in their Pageant Tour promoting their most recent album, To The Five Boroughs. The show was incredible and only served to deepen my appreciation for them.

First, an apology (in the classic sense of 'a defense'): if the only Beastie Boys that you have heard is the raucous noise of License to Ill (and especially "Fight for your Right to Party", ugh), then I invite you to get to know the genuine, grown up "Boys". Continue reading Three MC's* and One DJThey have matured (not least in musical style), and have incorporated a powerful positive message into their work. They still kick it old school -- some of the best straight up old school rap out there -- but they are careful to respect women, promote racial harmony, and promote peace and well-being in the world. They have worked with The Milarepa Fund quite extensively; coordinated a benefit concert in NYC following 9/11 with the proceeds going to help families of immigrants who died and others who missed out on the "official" aid; they have also thrown themselves wholeheartedly into national politics, encouraging people to register and vote. At a quieter moment in the concert last night, and there weren't many, the band encouraged the audience to be cool and respect each other, "Don't act like frat boys, just leave it at the frat house." MCA (Adam Yauch) in one song raps "I've got more rhymes than I've got gray hair/ and that's a lot 'cuz I've got my share." They do indeed have a bag full of rhymes, but I suspect that they've got their share of gray hair, too, as they've grown up musically and emotionally.

One reason why you've got to love the Beastie Boys: their opening act was a dog show. That's not jargon or slang or code for something else -- Bob Moore's Amazing Mongrels was in fact a show in which dogs came onstage and did tricks. Most excellent. The other opening act was Talib Kweli, another rapper native to Brooklyn. He was ok, but the bass was almost overpowering, and in a situation like that it is tough to appreciate new songs, sort of like going to opera or musical theatre and not knowing the story: nice enough, but difficult to enjoy on the level you would want. But it was more good straight up east coast rap, and a good intro to the main act.

The main act started with Mix Master Mike coming in after having posed as a beer vendor in the main hallway. When he revealed who he was to the patrons, they nearly fell over. He then walked out through the crowd and onto the stage (his movements were followed by a camera) and began mixing. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the ability of Mix Master Mike (MMM). He is a mixing savant, so fast on the scratch it makes your head swim, mixing sounds so effortlessly you can only gawk in slack-jawed admiration. His business card reads "World Champion DJ". Don't believe it -- he's being modest. I can't remember the last time I saw someone working so hard and having so much fun at the same time.

Then Adam, Adam, and Mike (that's MCA, Adrock, and Mike D to you and me) came in and began. They broke the show down into three parts with an encore. The playlist was as follows:

Super Disco Breakin'
Root Down
Sure Shot
Triple Trouble
Time to Get Ill
Putting Shame in your Game
Egg Man
Hello Brooklyn
Shake Your Rump

MMM then did some great mixing and scratching; then the stage changed to look like the stage at a bad wedding or prom, with the Boys (and two other musicians) wearing bad powder blue tuxedos. Here they moved from their MC work to playing the funk/jazz jams that they have become know for over the last ten years or so. They played:

Sabrosa/Futterman's Rule
Lighten Up
Something's Got to Give

Then they played a video montage while the stage changed again, and they came back out with MMM to rap some more. They rapped:

An Open Letter to NYC
Body Movin'
Paul Revere
Right Right Now Now
Three MC's and One DJ
Brass Monkey
Ch-Check it Out
So Whatcha Want?

The encore consisted of:

Intergalactic (in which they came off stage and reappeared to perform the song at the other end of the United Center, only a short ways from us.)
Sabotage ("dedicated" to George W. Bush: O My God! It's a mirage/ I'm tellin' y'all it's sabotage!)

It was, in short, an incredible show. A great mix of old and new; the second, third and fourth songs were three of my absolute faves, right in a row. Excellent incorporation of light and video into the production -- they even incorporated video from earlier in the day at one point. One guy actually proposed to his girlfirend there at the United Center on tape. (She said yes.) A couple of times during the show MCA came off the stage to shake hands with audience members. The performances were tight for a live show. MMM stunned the crowd with his mastery. And maybe the best part was that it was a lot of fun, which is really what the Beasties are all about.

I was frankly surprised at how many women were there; they accounted for maybe 30% of the audience. I usually think of the Beastie Boys as a guy band (even if an egalitarian, straightedge one). I was glad to be wrong. Unfortunately, I was also surprised that the crowd was around 98% white. As much as the Beastie Boys have tried to reach across borders, not least by working in the predominately African-American idioms of rap and funk, I guess that they have not been entirely successful at attracting a heterogenous following.

These guys have been doing this for -- can you believe it? -- 23 years. Can they sustain another 23? I hope so.

I know, I know, this seems an odd change of pace for an otherwise stentorian, tightened-up blog. But, hey, you know, bread and circuses...

(If you want to see documentary evidence click here.)

* To write "MC's" just seems wrong, since the apostrophe is not intended to be used for plurals. On the other hand, if I just wrote MCs, it would seem as if it should be read "m-c-s", rather than "m-cs". Plus, the title of the song that I cribbed my title from includes the apostrophe, so I figured it would be safe to include it, since even if it wasn't grammatical it was a reference to a title.

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