October 28th-29th, 2001
If you thought New Yorkers took themselves seriously before, oy, get a load of them now. But the Beastie Boys‘ New Yorkers Against Violence concert was one September 11th benefit with a reason for existing. Not only did the two-night event raise funds for pet Beastie-sponsored charities – the New York Women’s Foundation Disaster Relief Fund and the New York Association for New Americans September 11th Fund – but the music itself had a message of tolerance and humanity. Over both nights, the lineup made room for the Beasties’ expansive vision of rock & roll as a place where hip-hop and punk rock and Pakistani devotional hymns and Japanese New Wave can all thrive together, not just peacefully but passionately. It’s a utopian, urban image of a rock future that doesn’t sound cloying or dated, especially amid the recent glut of confused benefit concerts. (What more can I give? You mean, besides a rat’s ass about Michael Jackson?)
The Beasties put together a monster lineup, too. Pakistani singer Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan won over the party crowd with his trancelike tablas. Mos Def, the Roots and the Neptunes project N.E.R.D. did lively hip-hop sets. The Strokes performed in almost total darkness – because, you know, they’re serious artists, not just pretty faces – but gave good sullen in rhythm-guitar eruptions like “Hard to Explain” and “Barely Legal.” The B-52s, the Strokes of 1979, brought down the house with oldies like “Whammy Kiss” (have you played Side One of Whammy! lately? Kicks serious ass!), while the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion whipped the crowd into a frenzy and left sex stains all over the room.
Both nights peaked with a surprise guest shot: On the twenty-eighth, Sean Lennon announced, “My mom wants to come out and say hi,” whereupon Yoko Ono took the stage for some freestyle a cappella wailing. And on the twenty-ninth, Michael Stipe showed up with Moby on acoustic guitar, singing the Velvet Underground‘s “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and Neil Young‘s “Helpless.” During “Helpless,” Bono joined in and turned the song into an apparently impromptu medley with “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” But the Beastie Boys closed both shows, and the event belonged to them spiritually as well as musically, giving new resonance to such anthems as “Unite,” “Root Down” and “Sure Shot.” In the shadow of terrorist violence, the Beasties celebrated New York – as a muse, as a subject, as a hotbed of musical diversity and as a home – with a moral passion that was downright inspiring.
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This story is from the May 4th, 1968 issue of Rolling Stone.