Call it returning to the scene of the crime. Or fighting with foam bats. Originally a punk band that could barely play, the Beastie Boys followed up 2004's sample-heavy rap "comeback," To the 5 Boroughs, with an all-instrumental album, The Mix-Up. It picks up where 1996's odds & sods instrumental collection, The In Sound From Way Out!, left off. Their latest is suffused with a funky, tripped-out spirit that ranges from bubbling dub ("The Gala Event") to jazzy, downbeat grooves ("Freaky Hijiki"). But while informed by their usual soul-inflected spirit, it sounds a bit different.
"It's the stuff we've been into for years," Adam Horovitz says during a tour break in Manhattan. "I think because it's an all-instrumental album, we made a decision to keep it more than just the Meters and old funk 45s. We decided to branch out into things a lot of punk rock records that we were inspired by, like the Slits, Public Image Ltd., Gang of Four stuff like that."
It began when the trio decided to pick up their instruments again, and it bloomed from there. Unwilling to abandon either punk or funk on their latest tour, the Beasties are pairing their regular shows in certain markets with a gala "instrumental" performance featuring reworked originals, as well as tracks from The Mix-Up. "We're just calling it an instrumental show because the actual description is too long of a description. But it's basically more based around the instrumentals whereas our regular show is more based around the turntable," Horovitz explains.
These galas feature the Beasties dressed to the nines in suits and fedoras contributing to the Cotton Club vibe.
"We decided to get into that headspace, we needed to dress like jazz cats, and we just kinda went overboard," Horovitz says when confronted about his jacket and skinny-tie look. They're also asking for the audience to join in the uptown-ish sartorial spirit. "Are you going on your night on the town with a date, perhaps to wear cargo pants and Chivas sandals? Is that the best you got? To come see the Beastie Boys?"
The Boys recently returned from a long summer European tour, where they played everywhere from Istanbul to a castle in Serbia on the Danube River. Things got interesting in Greece, where the band had to cut their set when a riot erupted. A security breach led to a flooding of unticketed patrons in Athens; cars burned and fans partied like it was 1999, Woodstock style. Horovitz declined to talk about it, but directs anyone interested to Youtube, where there's video of carnage.
No talk of carnage? Ah, hell. So what's Horowitz take on hip hop circa '07, then?
He's been listening to Jay-Z, Fiddy and Kanye, sure, but says all the money involved in contemporary hip hop may have diminished its original luster. No. Really?
"Back in the day, you talked about all the Cadillacs you had. When you've got millions of dollars and you're still rapping about it's like, 'OK, you can afford nice cars. Whatever.' It's not that interesting. But you know, if that's what people want to talk about, if that's important to them, then, mazel tov."
Horowitz says he's happy after getting hitched to riot grrrl Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill, Le Tigre). He even calls it "awesome," suggesting there might be a few little Adrocks in the future. As for the Beastie's, they're heading back into their new studio after this tour to work on a new LP. Other than that, there's no plan. There never is.
"We're not good at really planning that far ahead," Horovitz says, referencing the band's notoriously violent disagreements. "It's really bad. There's a lot of arguments, but we don't fistfight anymore. We have those foam bats and the oversized boxing gloves, and ..."
So it takes pain to make great art. And foam bats too.
Monday and Tuesday, Sept. 24 and 25, at the Fillmore, 2115 Woodward, Detroit. 313-961-5451.
Chris Parker is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]