The Beastie Boys are one of the most influential, important, and straight-up entertaining groups in the history of hip hop and it is high time they be respected as such. For whatever reason, over the years their identity has more often been tied to rock than it has to rap; they are played far more often on so-called “alternative” stations than they are on hip hop stations and guitar-obsessed teenagers who would never pay a bit of attention to Run-D.M.C., much less Kanye or Jay-Z, are inexplicably drawn to their music. This has all led to a hip hop community that rarely gives them the credit they deserve.
The Beasties were trailblazers. Without them, hip hop never would have enjoyed the crossover success it did. Further increasing their legacy is the fact that they somehow remain relevant over twenty years after their debut. They are on an extremely short list of hip hop artists this can be said about, which in fairness is probably due in large part to their association with rock, a genre much better suited for longevity. The Beastie Boys work slowly, but with staggering consistency. They have yet to release a dud studio LP in six tries. This can be said about very few artists in any genre.
The lasting relevance of the Beastie Boys puts them in a position where they are able to organize something like the Get Out And Vote Tour on very short notice. The dates were announced just over three weeks ago, and you don’t get the feeling that the idea was hatched too much prior to this. In a short time the Beastie Boys were able to curate an ambitious roster of talent, ranging from Sheryl Crow to Santogold, from Norah Jones to Jack Johnson. (Though I must admit, as much as I respect the diversity of the tour, I would have traded it in a heartbeat had Nas, De La Soul, and Moby been available to open the tour, as the Beastie Boys hoped.) The tour hit swing states exclusively, and on Sunday night, just 36 hours before the polls opened, it rolled into Milwaukee’s US Cellular Arena, with openers Ben Harper, Tenacious D, and Crosby and Nash.
The tour is being run in conjunction with Rock the Vote. That means that all participants are legally obligated to maintain neutrality. But neutrality is a loose term, and in this case it is apparently defined simply as refraining from mentioning the candidates by name. This had the odd effect of making a concert centered around the election quite possibly the first show I’ve seen all year where nobody mentioned the name Barack Obama from the stage. Other than that it was pretty much anything goes, with the evening’s artists delighting the heavily pro-Obama crowd with cries to end the war and emphatic good riddances to George W. Bush. David Crosby went so far as to implore the crowd to “vote for the tall one.”
Musically, the Beastie Boys stuck to a primarily hip hop set, as opposed to their more traditional headlining dates, which usually feature a mix of hip hop and rock. They exploded onto the stage to the sound of “Body Movin’” after a frantic 5-minute intro by Mixmaster Mike, built around a heavily cut up version of Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” The crowd, particularly in the general admission floor section, responded enthusiastically after standing through three openers who, for all their respective strengths, frankly did not do a whole lot to move the body.
The fifteen song setlist drew songs from each of the Beastie Boys’ albums (at least all the ones with words.) It was heavy on the hits, precisely what you would expect from a hit-heavy crew playing a short set. The crowd was live, especially on more familiar songs such as “Sure Shot,” “Intergalactic,” and “So What’Cha Want.” The group was loose and energized, not missing a beat, dancing like maniacs, and entertaining the crowd with quick jokes between songs.
Fans in Milwaukee got a special treat with a two song encore. While they neglected to play encores for the first few shows of the tour (hilariously stating, “Two more songs. That’s it. We’re not going to do that thing where we leave and you scream and we come back out two minutes later.) somewhere along the line they realized audiences really wanted to hear “Sabotage.” So after a brief break the boys showed up with their instruments and ripped through a Tenacious D-backed “Time For Livin” before delivering one of their most popular hits.
The openers were all respectable in their own right, though only Tenacious D seemed to have much of a hold on the boisterous audience, performing hilarious acoustic renditions of hits like “Wonderboy” and “Tribute.” The legendary Crosby and Nash seemed lost, suffering from a complete disconnect with the 18-35 crowd, which mostly chatted over the soft acoustic strumming, though sprang to life for “Teach Your Children.” Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals opened the show with a plugged in set that was bafflingly composed almost entirely of new songs, a setlist more fitting for an intimate club show for fans than for the opening slot on a bill of diverse artists.
What made the night special was how it remained about the music, something that cannot be said about many politically charged concerts. Of course there was a general political vibe to the evening; that was to be expected, and for that matter enjoyed. This is the election season after all. Each artists made their supposedly neutral comments about the importance of voting, a disillusioned war veteran spoke between sets, and a whole helluva lot of people came decked out in Obama gear (even a few McCain-Palin stickers were spotted.) But overall, true to the Beastie Boys commitment to give music fans a night of good music and good fun before deciding the most important presidential race in the lifetime of many concert-goers, it was all about the music. Set changes were short, political rants were minimal, and after a good four hours of fun it was a happy crowd that exited into the rainy streets of Milwaukee, anxious to help shape its country’s future.
BEASTIE BOYS SETLIST
Ch-Check it Out
Super Disco Breakin’
Pass the Mic
Right Right Now Now
No Sleep Till Brooklyn
3 MCs and One DJ
So Whatcha Want
Time For Livin’ (with Tenacious D)
Posted by Mike Denslow at Nov 03, 2008 09:36 PM