Last October, Beastie Boys’ Michael “Mike D” Diamond and Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz released the Beastie Boys Book, a 592-page tome detailing the history of the New York hip-hop group and its cultural influence. It was also, in large part, a tribute to the group’s third member Adam “MCA” Yauch, who died in 2012 and was the creative force behind many iconic touchstones in the Beastie Boys’ history. Running through the stories of fame, their artistic process, the teenage hooliganism, was the group’s long-lasting sense of camaraderie with each other and their frequent collaborators; Amy Poehler, Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson and Colson Whitehead all contributed to the Beastie Boys Book, and many more celebrities joined or returned to record the (fantastic) audiobook version.
But the Beastie Boys weren’t done yet. They embarked on a six-date book tour that, in addition to the usual Q&A and readings, featured a special guest moderator at each stop and a live score by DJ Mixmaster Mike. And, now, they have a new show inspired by the book: Beastie Boys Story, a “2 person 1 man show about 3 kids who started a band together.” It’s directed by Spike Jonze, and currently in the middle of a three-night run at the Kings Theatre in Brooklyn.
Horovitz and Diamond strolled onto the bare-bones stage Monday night, and the vibe of the show quickly became apparent: part comedy routine, part earnest live storytelling (imagine The Moth or Pop-Up Magazine). There’s a sprinkling of casually-rehearsed skits, and the feeling of a basement TED talk you give to your closest friends. They recounted the Boys’ formation, rise to stardom, and subsequent artistic evolution from “Fight For Your Right to Party” bros to experimental (but still goofy) record connoisseurs. A large video projection behind them would intermittently run clips and segments, sometimes on its own (e.g. a pre-recorded breakdown of the samples in “Shake Your Rump,” which was a highlight of the show), or featuring Horovitz and Diamond speaking over archival footage, like when they shared an embarrassing clip from Lost Angels, a largely forgotten 1989 film starring Horovitz.
They were joined on-stage by a few guests, including Jonze’s young niece and a surprise appearance by David Cross. Props, set pieces and costumes — some memorable, some not — all made the occasional appearance. But for the most part, Horovitz and Diamond really were a two-person, one-man show as billed, alone on stage and charming, if a little awkward. Detours into fake arguments or extended bits led nowhere; the pair would attempt to correct each other; the teleprompter skipped lines; and Jonze, over the intercom, frequently would chime in to apologize.
“We did rehearse this,” Horovitz said to reassure the crowd. But the bumps and stumbles invariably ended up working in their favor; the loose energy was what the crowd was there for. Last night’s audience cheered and whooped throughout the performance, as if the Beastie Boys were performing their entire catalog. When a track played over the speaker system, they would sing along.
A fundamental reason the Beastie Boys grew from raucous, early party rap to enduring musical figures was their dedication to growth and frequent self-examination. Horovitz and Diamond, unafraid to let the show take more somber turns, took their time onstage to recount the things they weren’t proud of. They held themselves accountable for misogynistic lyrics in early Beastie Boys songs; they expressed regret for forcing founding member Kate Schellenbach out of the band because she didn’t fit their “aggressive rapper bro” image; Horowitz teared up while recalling the last show the band played together in 2009, before Yauch’s death.
He couldn’t be on stage with them, but Yauch’s presence was constantly felt throughout the night. His bandmates routinely brought up his significant contributions to the band — the cover of Paul’s Boutique, the bassline in “Sabotage,” and inventing a DIY sample-looping contraption involving a tape deck and two chairs, to name just a few.
Horovitz and Diamond told their stories warmly, and without a hint of inside-jokery. And, for the most part, they succeed at presenting the band with all its nuances: a group of punk-rock white kids from New York, a raging party bandwagon that toured the world on the back of one frat-boy anthem, and a collective of samplers and musical omnivores who weren’t afraid to experiment with their work or journey outside their chosen genre of hip-hop at a major label, all at once.
“We were all these things, at one point,” said Diamond. “But we were so much more.”