Keeping it surreal

The Beastie Boys at the Centrum, August 25, 1998
By MATT ASHARE  |  October 25, 2006

This article originally appeared in the September 4, 1998 issue of the Boston Phoenix.

Walking from a parking space in Red 5 through a new outlet mall and out by an Applebee’s and into the Centrum for the main event – “The Invincible Beastie Boys vs. the World” – a week ago Tuesday, I had the impression someone was throwing a frat party in downtown Worcester. Or maybe the back-to-school Northeast migration from this summer’s MTV Beach House (do they still do that?) just started early this year. These are the Beastie Boys’ people: young, white, male, and still ready to fight for their right to party. These aren’t the Beastie Boys: older, white, male, and still ready to fight (only in the metaphorical sense) for the rights of a Free Tibet. Artists don’t always get the audience they might think they deserve, and vice versa. Or maybe they actually do. Either way, it’s one of the things that keeps pop music interesting. And let’s face it, a Centrum full of vegan pseudo-intellectuals isn’t going to shout back “It’s time to get ill” with nearly as much gusto as a frat party when MCA, King Ad-Rock, and Mike D ask, “What time is it?”

The last time I was at the Centrum for a big hip-hop show, Puff Daddy’s Family were in the house and the venue’s concession loop was dotted with booths where you could have your picture taken next to a black-velvet tapestry adorned with the life-size image of the late Notorious B.I.G. They were doing a pretty brisk business. This time there were automated boxes the size of Coke machines dispensing Milarepa Fund propaganda and nobody seemed to be buying. Which is not to imply that the kids would have lined up to have their picture taken with a portrait of the Dalai Lama, only that these days life’s a tougher sell than death. But the best salesmen are the ones who can sell you something you don’t think you want or need. And the Beasties are pros.

At Puffy’s shindig the DJ kept it real between sets by mixing some of “the Message” into a pastiche of old-school lessons. Right before the Beasties hit the stage, their new secret weapon, Invisibl Skratch Pikl Mix Master Mike, manned the decks and got nasty with a very different blast from the past, applying his virtuoso cutting skills to Rush’s “Tom Sawyer.” He was just keeping it surreal on the wheels of steel.

Mix Master Mike and the new Beasties stage – a circular platform with a rotating center a la one of those skyline restaurants that was located at the center of the packed and chairless Centrum floor – are two more reminders that these three NYC MCs are, above all, top-flight conceptualists. That’s the thing about the Beasties: they haven’t always been tasteful, but they’ve always had good taste. Back in ’86 they rode the choicest AC/DC riffs to the top of the charts; in ’89 they had the foresight to give the pre-Beck Dust Brothers a wide berth on Paul’s Boutique; and then in ’92 and ’94 they got postmodern on our cynical asses with Spike Jonze videos and mix-and-match sets of rap, funk, and punk splattered with fluty loops, ‘70s TV themes, and a blur of pop-cult referencing. Now they’ve got one of the hottest DJs in the business.

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