|Beastie Boys on cracking form at Wembley Arena, September 2004|
The Hiatus is back off again
Last Wednesday when I posted the first of my three-part tribute to MCA and the Beastie Boys I said that parts two and three would follow by the end of the week. Clearly things haven’t quite run to plan however rather than ‘fess up I would prefer to believe I was subconsciously echoing the Beasties’ unhurried approach to their career. Anyone who remembers the half decade+ between the release of Hello Nasty and To The 5 Boroughs will know where I’m coming from.
Back to the programme, I’d like to use this last post to say thanks to MCA and the Beastie Boys for providing me with my favourite gig memory ever and to reflect on how, even after that highpoint in my fandom, the Beasties have continued to give me the confidence to approach music and life in a way that is true to me. For those of you who read the last post I promise I will try harder this time not to write so much.
|Out on a limb: Norwich Life. Photo: DCMS|
Last time I explained how during my years at university the Beasties’ music and their approach to life I gained the confidence to explore new music and not be restricted by other peoples’ notions of what’s cool or acceptable. I’m pleased to say this outlook gave me the resilience I needed to cope and subsequently thrive in the years that followed immediately after university.
Perhaps the greatest challenge I faced after university was adjusting to life in Norwich or as I liked to refer to it, the Eastern gulag. In the autumn of 2004 I had moved to the home of Alan Partridge to take up a place on the national graduate development programme (ngdp), a local government graduate scheme. Knowing virtually nobody at first, I looked to the Beasties’ musical eclecticism and fearlessness and set about the task of, gulp, enjoying living in Norwich.
By pursuing the music that interested me rather than necessarily what my house mates or taste-makers at the time I listened to I was able to have a surprisingly great time in England’s Other City. I might be wrong but I have yet to meet many other people who managed to combine the glamour and glitz of an accelerated career in local government with seeing everyone from Jazzy Jeff (twice!), The Coral, Mad Professor, Goldie Lookin Chain, Ian Brown, Rufus Wainwright, Slum Village, Skinnyman, Super Furry Animals along with an (un)healthy dose of house music of variable quality. While I am happy to report over the two years I spent in Norwich I managed to meet like-minded people I still have to give thanks to MCA and the Beasties for giving me the confidence to rock up to often pretty out there gigs on my own, irrespective of whether I was likely to be a fish out of water.
It was early on in Norwich sojourn when the Beastie Boys provided me with my favourite ever live music experience. In September 2004 I travelled from Norwich to London to see the Beasties’ live at Wembley Arena, to see them them perform their latest album, the old school hip-hop inspired To the 5 Boroughs. With me at the gig were my two sisters and my brother-in-law. What we witnessed that evening confirmed to us the Beasties’ legendary status was well-deserved and hard-earned.
From the start, I was blown away by the gig the Beasties put on. In the support slot was Talib Kweli, performing, one half of backpack hip-hop legends Black Star and a passionate and articulate Brooklyn MC in his own right. Kweli’s inclusion on the bill showed the Beasties’ remained rooted in the hip-hop tradition, despite having a strong alternative following. After Kweli’s turn Mix Master Mike (the Beasties’ tour DJ and world champion scratch supremo) got things started with an unbelievable scratch routine which seamlessly carried over into an hour or so of pure hip-hop. Throughout the set MCA, Ad-Rock and Mike D traded rhymes over a combination of songs’ original musical backing and the freshest new hip-hop tracks. For an idea of what the performance was like, check out footage from the Beasties’ innovative concert film Awesome;I… Shot That!, which was recorded one month later.
|Greatest concert film of all time? Quite possibly.|
After a breathless run-through of songs from every phase of the Beasties’ career none of us were quite sure what to expect when the band left the stage after about an hour. After around five minutes of talking amongst ourselves we suddenly heard the low rumble of fuzz bass, only to discover the Beasties’ had re-assembled at the other end of the hall in live instrumentation form. After a blistering performance of Sabotage we were treated to mellower numbers from the Check Your Head and Ill Communication albums. For the night’s finale the band gave an amazing performance of An Open Letter to NYC, recorded after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 .
The Mix-Up and Hot Sauce Committee Part 2
I came away from the Wembley with more respect than ever for the Beastie Boys and continued to listen avidly to the group’s music. However, by the time the Beasties’ next album, The Mix-Up, came out in 2007 I’ve got to be honest and say my fandom had somewhat waned. Perhaps it was the fact that The Mix-Up is an all-instrumental affair that made it harder for me to get excited about it than I had been for To the 5 Boroughs. Or perhaps my taste in music had changed and the Beasties hadn’t. Either way, by the I saw the Beasties perform live again in 2007 I’m sorry to say I just couldn’t get all that excited, despite the fact the group put on similarly energetic performance. As I headed home from the gig my mind drifted to thoughts of work the next day (I was up far later than was sensible for a weekday) and I could feel my youth slipping away, and with it my love for the world the Beastie Boys inhabited.
Over the coming years I continued to appreciate the Beastie Boys but the intensity with which I had listened to their music and followed their progress had diminished. It wasn’t until 2009 when news of MCA’s cancer first broke that I gave the Beasties’ much thought. So when Hot Sauce Committee Part Two emerged in April of last year my initial response was one of mild interest and relief that it seemed MCA’s health problems were behind him than outright excitement. Luckily, I made the effort to pick up Hot Sauce Committee and I was rewarded with what I believe was the best album of 2011.
|A tremendous return to form.|
I’m aware of my limitations as a music critic so I’ll try to describe Hot Sauce Committee as best as I can. If you’ve ever heard and enjoyed a Beastie Boys song, chances are you’ll enjoy this album. Although the album mainly focuses on hip-hop, there are also strong elements of the band’s earlier punk/DC hardcore incarnation on tracks such as Say It and Lee Majors Come Again. Guest vocalists are also on hand, with famed ‘rapper’s rapper Nas clearly enjoying himself on Too Many Rappers while Santigold adds some contemporary pop sparkle on Don’t Play No Game That I Can’t Win. Throughout it all the Beasties sound hungry, with MCA in particular reminding us of his skills as an MC on Long Burn the Fire. Perhaps most striking of all, sonically the album shines, with Phoenix collaborator Philippe Zdar making sure the analogue synths fizz and gurgle as only they can. If you’ve get to get into the Beastie Boys’ music I strongly recommend you pick up Hot Sauce Committee at the same time as The Sounds of Science anthology.
You can listen to Hot Sauce Committe Part Two in its entireity via SoundCloud.
The Future Is Unwritten
It’s not clear what the future holds for the Beastie Boys as a group. It’s not even a fortnight since MCA died and it would be unseemly to speculate on what remaining members Ad-Rock and Mike D should do next. As a fan of MCA and the Beastie Boys I am just grateful to have had the good fortune to be introduced to the Beasties’ music at an important stage of my life and for all the great memories their music brings to life. The Beastie Boys music and their approach to life gave me the confidence to explore and embrace new forms of music and not worry about conforming to one easy to categorise musical tribe. Without them my life would be an infinitely duller place. I’d like to end by quoting one of my favourite rhymes from MCA on Hot Sauce Committee: