SEATTLE -- Thirteen years ago -- too far back for its teen-age fans to remember -- a young, New York hip-hop act called the Beastie Boys was booed off the stage while opening up here for pop diva Madonna.
On Friday night, the Beasties returned to Seattle, not so much with revenge in their eyes as with a point to prove. They proved it.
As the reigning kings of popular music, the Beasties returned to this city at the top of their genre-bending rap-rock-punk game, playing music from their latest albums -- including their #1 album, Hello Nasty, the record currently ruling the Billboard 200 albums chart.
After three years away from touring, they came fully prepared, with a stage that spun in circles, a light show that was practically drug-inducing and a sound system that was unparalleled. They sang a tribute to Billy Joel and, in the end, stood triumphant.
And the people were there to celebrate, like subjects greeting kings returning from a great battle. Here's how it went:
The house lights drop. A singular, small white light shines down on the turntable stage below. A tech crew, in its bright-orange Quasar jumpsuits and miners' caps, peels off the white linen sheet that is draped over the amplifiers, drums, instruments and turntables. A vacuum cleaner sweeps up what is left of A Tribe Called Quest's opening set and leftover debris.
Opening night of the most anticipated tour of the year is about to start at Key Arena and 14,000 screaming Beastie Boys fans cheer their heroes. Security guards surround the perimeter of the stage. Regardless, one teen-age girl slips over the pit and darts up the runway and onto the stage, screaming and prancing blissfully.
The crowd sees her and shouts its approval in decibels reserved for airline runways. In no time, she is lassoed by the stage crew and dragged off, screaming, biting, kicking and, seemingly, loving every second of it.
A minute later, the Beasties' current touring DJ, Mixmaster Mike of Invisibl Skratch Piklz fame, bolts up the ramp and onto the stage to his place behind the turntables. The screams from the crowd are deafening. Mixmaster Mike has an LP in his hands, he pushes the sides together, pops out the record and plops it on the turntable. The first few beats are squeezed out. Then a familiar sample -- "Today's Tom Sawyer ... Today's Tom Sawyer ..." -- trails off into the hallways of Key Arena, sending a rush of fans to their seats.
The dancing begins as security guards pull squashed fans one by one out of the pit as if unloading a truck piled with sacks. Mixmaster Mike settles on a thumping bass drum as the Beasties -- Mike D, Ad-Rock and MCA -- dart up the platform, followed by Money Mark (who opened the show) and two other percussionists. They are decked out in fluorescent-orange airline-crew jumpsuits.
They are holding their mics.
They are strutting around the stage.
And then it begins.
The Beasties kick off with "Alright Hear This," from Ill Communication. They're bouncing around the stage like a cat in water -- trying to jump, scratch and claw their way out.
The "In the Round" turntable-style stage provides almost every section of the sold-out crowd with the best seats in the house. It turns slowly, making a quarter revolution every 20-30 minutes; by the end of the show, it will have circled the arena once.
However, the stage is raised above eye level, leaving those on the floor with the worst seats in the house.
But that doesn't deter the enthusiasm in the mosh pit.
Immediately, these fans start churning, bouncing and spinning, forming a giant whirlpool of bodies. The Beasties segue into "Body Movin' " (RealAudio excerpt), as Mixmaster Mike -- buttressed by 12 or more television sets -- stands amid a synchronized, live-footage video display. Above, tiers of aluminum tracking-motors keep the fluorescent and colored spotlights alternating from the stage to the audience to the arena walls in a dizzying display of patterns.
And always, the Beastie Boys, in their dayglow jumpsuits, leap about the stage, inspiring the crowd to stay on its feet.
Even as it seems the energy level has peaked, "Skills to Pay The Bills" pushes it even higher. Mike D takes command as he lifts his arms and spurs the audience on to "Shake Your Rump." The songs are fresh: The setlist focuses on the Beasties' latest efforts, Check Your Head (1992), Ill Communication (1994) and their recent release -- their fastest-selling to date -- the chart-topping smash LP Hello Nasty.
After a barrage of heavy thumpin' and rappin', the Boys put their mics down
and pick up their instruments for a little groove time. The stage beneath
them rotates a quarter turn. MCA (born Adam Yauch) has his arm around a skinny stand-up bass, Mike D (born Mike Diamond) mans the drums and Ad-Rock (born Adam Horovitz) tears at a guitar. As the guitar's wah-wah sounds pulsate around the room, Money Mark pounds on the keys. The crew picks a few funk jams off In Sounds From Way Out, including "Ricky's Theme," and "Sabrosa."
And, before you know it, they're back into more fast jams and hip-hop punk.
Mike D introduces the next one as "A cover from the band Reagan Youth," which proves to be a blitzkrieg assault called "Slow it Down." The Beasties jump between fast-as-hell raps and slowed-down funk, barely letting fans and themselves cool down between each number.
"Hello? Seattle?" MCA asks during a brief pause. The fans answer back with hysterical shouts. An octagonal box of fluorescent lights is lowered to just above the stage.
"What is that?" asks Ad-Rock mockingly.
"It's a bug zapper," says Mike D.
The light fixture spins and turns the arena into a giant discotheque. The band segues back into its heavy beat with an explosive series -- "Lighten Up," "Time For Living" and "The Move."
During the show, a number of fans jump up onto the stage -- some elude capture and run the perimeter, only to jump back into the crowd as the guards close in. One fan even manages to snap a few pictures of the Boys while scurrying around the stage. Money Mark poses for one, and then the fan runs straight for the edge of the stage and dives spread-eagle into the audience, which catches him like a trapeze net.
As hot as it is in the crowd, the stage seems to be sweltering under all of the lights. Nonetheless, the Boys -- in their jumpsuits -- are still dancing to "Heart Attack Man." With their last breaths, they thank Seattle. Then they leave the stage. The crowd is dumbstruck, paralyzed, disbelieving.
Within minutes, the Beastie Boys are back and blasting off with "Intergalactic" (RealAudio excerpt). As the last verses trail off -- "Intergalactic planetary/ Planetary intergalactic/ Another dimension" -- Mike D addresses the screaming crowd, dodging the shirts, panties, hats and water bottles thrown his way.
"Ahh ... Seattle. We're gonna play two more songs tonight," Mike D announces. "The first one ... is a cover by our very good friend who couldn't make it here tonight. His plane got delayed in Topeka [Kan.]. This is 'Big Shot,' by our friend Billy Joel!"
The crowd explodes in a massive guffaw at the thought of the Beasties paying tribute to their fellow New Yorker, the piano-playing pop star Joel. Undeterred, the music starts pumping and Mike D screams the chorus: "You had to be a big shot didn't ya?"
Ad-Rock scratches out the finest three chords he knows and MCA rips his fingertips into his bass strings.
Everyone knows what is left. The first scratches come through the PA -- "Ohhh ... I can't stand it... . " "Sabotage" (RealAudio excerpt) fills the deepest recesses of Key Arena as a mesmerizing glow of purple, green and orange
lights treats the crowd to a fireworks display of sight and sound. Money
Mark takes a lap around the stage then jumps over his keyboard, badly missing and sending his whole set-up onto the ground.
The energy flowing through the arena is intoxicating.
No doubt heads are spinning even as the Beasties put down their mics.
And then they are gone.
"It was awesome" is all that 23-year-old Portland, Ore., resident Greg Stiles can think to say after it's over.
"They could have played another two hours and it still would've rocked," says Ken Romero, 31.
The Beastie Boys' tour continues up to Vancouver, British Columbia (Aug. 1); then heads south to Portland (Aug. 2); Los Angeles (Sept. 11); and Oakland, Calif. (Sept. 13).