Live Report: The Beastie Boys

The Key Arena, Seattle, July 31, 1998

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Given that Rush's precision rock dominated the airwaves when the Beasties began their adolescent romp to the top of pop way back in the mid-Eighties, it was only fitting that the group's highly anticipated tour kicked off with Auxiliary Beastie Mixmaster Mike scratching the first thirty seconds of "Tom Sawyer" for five minutes straight. The crowd of 15,000 was simmering by the time King Ad-Rock, Mike D and MCA boiled up the ramp in their trademark orange coveralls to the beat of "The Move," a track off the Boys' latest, Hello Nasty.

But despite the hype and screaming fans, the thirtysomething trio looked a little ragged-or perhaps nervous, what with just releasing the year's fastest-selling record-as they took the circular stage, scrambling to cover the revolving platform's circumference as their vocals bounced haplessly against the Arena's concrete walls. Michael Diamond, the only Boy to address the audience, forsook declaiming and sign-flashing for the occasional post-song "Thank you," lending a plaintive air to the evening's proceedings.

The round stage set did indeed rotate (a feature withheld for A Tribe Called Quest's opening set), but never while the band actually played, and with each spin the trio (augmented by Mixmaster Mike and three backup musicians) served up the same Snack Pack stratagem: first lather the house with one or two of Hello Nasty's powerball tunes-"Super Disco Breakin'" got an especially sweaty workout-shoot a shock wave through the mosh pit with one of their subminute old-school hardcore tunes, and then cool off with a fond but sloppy jam on lounge-y Latin rhythms. MCA's shiny new standup bass notwithstanding, the Beastie's okay instrumental chops couldn't approach the incandescent stirred coals of, say, Santana '71, and four or five samplings of this stuff watered an already ersatz cream.

"Slow and Low," the only tune predating their second album Paul's Boutique, got a bizarre instrumental reinterpretation that left the MCs hanging on the wrong end of beats with confused looks; it was actually hard to tell if Mixmaster Mike hadn't selected the wrong records. The mostly-Nasty show lost some finesse in the mix with certain elements ("The Move"'s harpsichord, "Body Movin"'s steel drums and chirpy Smurf chorus) either lost in the ambiance or absent altogether. "So What'cha Want" and a sprinkling of other Check Your Head tunes, built more on sonic simplicity and brute groove force, emerged more or less unscathed.

For the encore came the hit single "Intergalactic," unsurprisingly a little more blurry than the album version, then Mike D., a hitch in his throat again announced a number by a great man "who couldn't be here tonight ... his plane is stuck in Topeka, Kansas, it has an ... oil ... problem." This proved to be Billy Joel's "Big Shot" (the band made its regular set exit to the strains of Joel's "You Oughta Know By Now") played double time behind D.'s barking. Then a quick, sloppy "Sabotage" complete with mania-inducing blackout during the false ending, over and out. A competent, explorative bunch, these Beasties, but not quite those conquering heroes a packed house came to hail.

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