“I swear we rehearsed this,” Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz sighed.
Sitting on the edge of the Nourse Theater stage late on Monday evening, the one-time Beastie Boy looked like he could use some sugar with coffee and cream as he took a moment to wipe his forehead on the sleeve of his maitre d’ costume. No one could blame the rapper for his visible exhaustion given he’d just spent over two hours regaling a sold-out crowd with stories from the career of one of hip-hop’s most acclaimed trios.
As one of only five “Live & Direct” shows booked across the country to celebrate the release of the mammoth, 590-page Beastie Boys Book, the night was charged with excitement long before the lights had even gone down. Billed as a tour featuring “readings, conversation, a question-and-answer segment, and special guests,” Monday’s performance represented the first opportunity for many fans to see Horovitz and fellow Beastie Michael “Mike D” Diamond following the group’s dissolution after the death of Adam “MCA” Yauch in 2012.
Those familiar with the City Arts & Lectures format will recall that most of their events consist of two armchairs on a naked stage. While armchairs did come into play for portions of the show, their prominence was eclipsed by the turntables occupying the left side of the stage. Two screens were also used to show everything from old Super 8 footage that Yauch had shot during the Beastie’s early years to an impressively terrible sizzle reel highlighting Horovitz’s performance in the 1989 troubled youth film Lost Angels.
Broken into chronological chapters that found Horovitz and Diamond alternating scripted stories detailing their career, the evening was presented like a Broadway show in which the two played themselves. There was also some costume changes (a favorite pastime), which led to skits like Diamond taking the stage as a painter working on a life-size portrait of himself as a naked 20-something rising from the bathtub situated in the kitchen of the shoddy Manhattan apartment he once shared with Yauch.
Mostly though, there were stories.
Hearing Horovitz recall how the group invited themselves into the studio to watch the iconic recording sessions for Aerosmith and Run DMC’s classic “Walk This Way,” one could almost smell the Brooklyn sidewalk and feel the spittle as it rocketed from Steven Tyler’s lips.
At another point, Diamond informed the crowd about how they’d discovered a treasure trove of 1970s female fashion items locked away by the owner in an L.A. house they were renting around the time they recorded 1989’s Paul’s Boutique. Naturally the Beasties all took to wearing the clothes when they went out for breakfast or hung around the property. Following an invitation to Dolly Parton’s Christmas party, the trio arrived in their newfound threads — but of course Horovitz and Yauch bailed on the idea, leaving Diamond to chat with Bob Dylan while dressed in a truly heinous neon green ensemble (photos of the outfit were offered as visual accompaniment).
For fans of the group, hearing insider tales of how a few kids that met at a Bad Brains concert eventually became the creative force behind such enduring classics as “Intergalactic,” “Sabotage,” and “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” was more than worth the price of admission. However, throughout the night the ghost of Yauch seemed to occupy a larger and larger place in the performance. Not only did the tales told by Horovitz and Diamond continually cast Yauch as both a fearless and beloved friend, but they furthermore served to emphasize his importance to how we think about the Beastie Boys today.
Long before Kanye West ever took the mic away from Taylor Swift, Yauch — dressed as his alter-ego Nathanial Hörnblowér — stormed the stage to protest that R.E.M. had bested Spike Jonze for the MTV Music Video Award for Best Director. In footage shown of the band’s early, debauched performances, it’s Yauch torpedoing off the stage and into the crowd. In short, when Yauch passed away in 2012, the spirit of the Beastie Boys died with him. While one could argue the absence of Yauch posed an insurmountable obstacle to overcome, it in fact made what Horovitz and Diamond did on Monday night all the more memorable.
Unable to share the stage with their collaborator, bandmate, and dear friend, the two surviving members of the Beastie Boys instead brought him back to life through stories, clips, and photographs. Not every memory they shared was flattering, but the picture they painted was unmistakable. Though Monday’s event didn’t feature the hydraulic penis that once accompanied the band on tour or find Horowitz and Diamond spitting cherished verses, it served its purpose as a genuine and deep dive into the story of three bad brothers you know so well.