At a recent Imogen Heap show at Avalon, a guy in front of me with a Canon ELPH was making a video clip. The auteur crept from Heap’s sequined stilettos up the mic stand ivied with plastic roses, to her hands as they switched from laptop to synth. Onstage Christmas lights blurred every time he moved. I was transfixed by this Nanotron flick, and strangely excited that, for the moment, the shooter’s perspective and fixations were known only to the two of us.
The Beasties’ resident cineaste Adam Yauch reportedly got a similar charge out of seeing a fan’s cellphone-camera image of his band online a few years back. Right then and there, three days before a sold-out October 9, 2004, Madison Square Garden show, he corralled a bunch of Hi-8 video cameras (plus a few of the DV kind for close associates) to distribute among the first 50 responders to a Web board call for ad hoc DPs, providing they had some basic experience and their seating fit his evenly scattered view plan. A year and 6,732 edits later, his film (credited to nom de video Nathanial Hörnblowér) was done.
But as fresh a no-brainer as this concept was in 2004, there’s something late-seeming about it now. That year in the editing room, with three teams cutting footage to a cleanly recorded beat, cost the film something in terms of the racing zeitgeist. It’s not because the Beasties are past their performing prime—actually they’ve hit upon a pretty evergreen balance of tongue-in-cheek nostalgia, elder-statesman koans, and borscht belt yuks. But in the past six months, the explosion of online video, from stalker cams to the stuff on various curatorial vlogs, has introduced scads more variables into the star-fan image-making relationship.
With Awesome‘s insistence on professional sound—only a few times do we get sonically dropped into the cavernous, thumping Garden—and cuts to pristine close-ups of things like Mixmaster Mike’s admittedly sick scratch detail work, it plays like a hype victory lap rather than a boundary-smashing study of fan curiosity or pathology. One warm bit of gleeful “just-like-us”-ism catches Ben Stiller rapping along with his heroes, but other wacky detours—a beer purchase, a trip to the can, and one crew’s quest to sneak backstage—are only a little bit funny compared to the steady-rolling bacchanal of reality TV transgression.
That said, the concert comes off like a blast. A monster Hendrix intro kicks off a kinetic show that features, among other things, an exuberant “Shake Your Rump,” an unabashedly grown-up “Root Down,” and a pulverizing “Brass Monkey” that flies in the radio beats of the week. Throughout the show, the band morphs from chartreuse tracksuited glory-dazers to tuxedoed lounge lizards grooving on a lit float to their final incarnation as fortysomething smartasses in Scrabble and mah-jongg T-shirts—calling a game a game. Shots of the crowd itself are the most compelling though, which Adam Yauch has admitted. He’s now working on a project involving expanded MySpace video capabilities—in a push to further democratize stardom for the vox paparazzi.