The Beastie Boys’ ideal of enlightened community took a hit this summer when they shuttered their record label. Not enough Grand Royal bands sold well, and now you can buy Buffalo Daughter LPs at GrandRoyal.com for the retro price of $4. How 1976! But the strongest ideals don’t buckle under disappointment, so the Beastie response to America’s war on Muslim terrorism was to organize New Yorkers Against Violence, a two-night benefit concert at Hammerstein Ballroom full of offbeat multiethnic acts and pleas for tolerance.
The diverse first night, Sunday, October 28, crumbled due to slow set changes and an impatient crowd. By the time Cibo Matto followed Rival Schools’ trebly blare with a half-speed cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle,” the show was already hopelessly behind schedule. Cibo Matto have expanded their wayward eclecticism with jammy jazz-funk that sounds like what the Crusaders were probably playing in 1981. Their music displays all the colors of bubblegum.
The sold-out, cigarette-huffing crowd came mostly to see the Beasties, ideals be damned; many didn’t even know which other bands were on the bill. They indulged a brief speech by Yoko Ono, who urged us to “Heal one another,” and ignored Pakistani qawwali singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan. They seemed most enthused by DJ Stretch Armstrong, who spun populist classics by Joan Jett and Duran Duran between sets.
MCA introduced Benjamin Barber, whose book Jihad vs. McWorld deconstructs economic globalism. “You can kill the terrorists, but,” Barber declaimed, and part of the moody crowd erupted at the mention of revenge, nearly drowning out the rest of his cautionary speech. In a purposeful 26-minute set, the Strokes inspired Beatlemania screams from the balcony Lolitas. Their refined set—airless groove, dark stage, black clothes, slouching, jolie laide—worked hard to reclaim the good name of posing, and if there’s a NY band they resemble, it’s not Television or the Velvets, but an all-male Blondie.
Blessedly jolly, the B-52’s, led by camp counselor Fred Schneider, added a short old-school set, with “Is That You Mo-Dean?” as the only post-1983 shimmy disc. The Beasties came on, to rapture, after midnight, but stopping to quell crowd-surfing and fumbling the lyrics to a few songs, they rapped fitfully.
The next night ran with er, military precision. N*E*R*D, the delightful black-rock project of star hip-hop producers the Neptunes, sounds like early Red Hot Chili Peppers if Kool Keith were in charge, including a spirited version of “Horse With No Name” (because they love America—get it?). From the DJ booth, Afrika Bambaataa spun dance jams that inspired a breakdance circle on the floor. The Roots used a Mos Def guest slot and Scratch’s human beatbox solos to move the Beastie partisans. With praise from Mike D (“The next artist is much better than we are”), as well as Ali Khan’s own increased showmanship, the crowd even responded to qawwali’s accelerated bursts.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s sordid humpabilly passed quickly, and then bald brothers Moby and Michael Stipe played an amiable “All Tomorrow’s Parties” and Neil Young’s “Helpless,” featuring a walk-on by that celestial ham Bono—huge cheers—who inserted a verse of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.” The Beasties, like my man Latrell, finally put in a full 48, from “Sure Shot” back to “Slow and Low” and “Shake Your Rump,” ending with “Intergalactic.” On the floor, a few thousand bodies finally bounced in unison. But onstage, MCA didn’t seem very interested in being a Beastie: He was nearly the only one there who didn’t jump or jive. Given the show’s theme, he might have felt celebration was unseemly, though no one else agreed. —Rob Tannenbaum
Oh My Goth
The dress code for New Yorkers at rock shows is “aggressively normal,” so the Horror Prom was an excuse for the usual suspects to get some severe weirdness out of their system. The lightship Frying Pan’s rusty chambers became a high-school-themed haunted house on October 28, with bands playing inside the boat and on the pier. Goth formal wear—gore-splattered dresses and vats of eyeliner—was very popular; there were Marie Antoinettes and English schoolboys and someone with a Residents-style bloodshot eyeball over his head and an enormous stuffed penis attached to his tuxedo. Scariest of all: the guy who’d glued a photocopied mask of Lionel Richie’s face to the front of his goggles.
The atmosphere was impressive enough that the music itself didn’t have to be all that good. If there was ever an appropriate venue for the Vulgaras, a compellingly wretched trash-goth quartet whose singer ended their set topless, running a knife between her legs and dripping fake blood, this was it. Even so, both stages were marred by some of the worst PA systems ever plugged in. Sightings are notorious for blowing out fuse boxes within a few minutes of taking the stage; their set (imagine a braking Concorde, plus a beat) would’ve been a lot more bearable if they had. And the Watchers, gangly Contortions wannabes from Chicago, misjudged the line between funky and fonk-aaay.
The bands that came off the best used the ghastly sound to their advantage. The Yeah Yeah Yeahs stripped their songs to skeletal blurts while evangelical frontwoman Karen O hollered and glared like something out of a Richard Kern photo. Oneida, recording what’s meant to be a live album, made like the wall of noise was the whole point—keyboardist Fat Bobby hammered at his organ until the boat shook, and they weren’t even on the boat. The vampires roared, the zombies stomped, and the dead teenagers decomposed approvingly. —Douglas Wolk