21 years later, Beastie Boys are still rocking steady

Brian McCollum
Detroit Free Press (MCT)

And to think the world was ready to dismiss them as disposable one-hit wonders.

Two decades after concocting a rap-rock Reese's Cup, and serving it up with a slice of Gen X pop-culture savvy, the Beastie Boys roll on - older, wiser and just as musically feisty as ever.

It has been 21 years since "(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (To Party)" shoved the Queens, N.Y., threesome onto the American consciousness, making its members the wild-eyed poster boys for snotty suburban hip-hop. The barrier-busting band has come a long way since the mayhem of those early days - cementing its hip-hop credentials with 1989's "Paul's Boutique," reasserting its punk roots with 1992's "Check Your Head," at last assuring mainstream respectability with its Tibetan Freedom Concerts in the late 1990s.

The trio's latest album, "The Mix-Up," finds Adam Horovitz (guitar), Adam Yauch (bass) and Mike Diamond (drums) reaching back to their very earliest roots, picking up their instruments to careen through 12 tracks of eclectic dub-funk-rock. The juvenilia of `86 may be well behind them. But Horovitz says that little about the group's dynamic has dramatically changed.

"I think that's why we still work together - we're kind of the same people we've always been," says Horovitz, who will turn 41 next month. "We have our place with each other. With Adam and Mike, they've got kids, so I think that figures into all of this. But we all interact with each other the same - we have the same goals, the same sense of humor, all of that stuff."

What they've also got is one of the most enviable, easygoing fan relationships you'll find in contemporary music. As seen in the band's ongoing fan club correspondence and loose onstage vibe, it's a casual, knowing rapport that reflects a shared sensibility.

Horovitz says establishing the buddy-buddy connection was a deliberate move after the band's first major headlining tour.

"We had started as this hardcore band a long, long time ago. We never thought about an audience. The only people there were like your friends, you know?" he says. "Then `Fight for Your Right' came out and it blew up, and we were suddenly in these weird arenas. It just seemed really detached.

"So when we came back in `92 for a (club) tour, we started meeting a lot more people. You'd meet these kids, they're your age, they're into the same stuff you're into. ... And that meant a lot to us, just to know that we're not these people on a stage disconnected from the people in the audience - that they could just as easily be up on the stage."

The mutual trust with fans built a platform for creative freedom, a place where the only expectation is that there are no expectations.

"People that come to see us aren't just into whatever the top 10 hit is at the time," he says. "People expect us to do what we feel like doing. I think they get bummed out if we try to do some stuff that's not what we want to try to sell records or get airplay or whatever. People can see through that, and they'd definitely be able to see through it with us."

On its current tour, the trio has advantage of that freedom for an unorthodox approach. Most cities have gotten a two-night Beasties stand: First, a classic set drawing from the group's hip-hop discography, featuring turntable work from Mixmaster Mike, a 10-year collaborator who's now essentially the fourth Beastie. It's followed by a night of instrumental funk and punk - which comes complete with a quirky request that fans don spiffy evening attire for the occasion.

"It's been going over good. Real good," says Horovitz. "It's weird - usually thousands of people don't get that pumped for instrumental songs. Usually you go to a show and you want to sing along to the songs. So it's been cool. People get into it. It's keeping people working on their dance steps."

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