OAKLAND, Calif. -- At one point during the Beastie Boys' hour-and-a-half, 30-song set here Sunday night, MC Ad-Rock (born Adam Horovitz) made a joking reference to former '70s disco "Dance Fever" host Denny Terio.
Seconds later, you could have heard a nipple ring drop when the crowd paused uncomprehendingly.
Similarly, when Ad-Rock and fellow MC Mike D (born Michael Diamond) acted out godfather of soul James Brown's fabled shirking-off-the-cape routine before the final encore, quizzical looks abounded among the thousands of teenybopper attendees.
Like legendary rockers the Beatles or Led Zeppelin before them, the punk-rap trio known as the Beastie Boys have become a rock rite of passage; less an act than a phenomenon that spans musical generations.
Perhaps that explains the generation gap that divided the group from many of its fans at the B-Boys' performance at the New Arena.
Not that any of it seemed to matter to the B-Boys. After all, they've been around for 15 years -- an absurd lifespan in the rap scene -- and they still have the creative and commercial punch to deliver the platinum goods, as they've done with their recently released album, Hello Nasty.
Despite their grown-up miens and the social awareness they've brought to projects such as the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, the Beasties -- who also include rapper MCA (born Adam Yauch) and touring DJ Mixmaster Mike (born Mike Schwartz), of the San Francisco Bay Area's Invisibl Skratch Piklz -- seemed intent on reclaiming their status as one of the premiere live rap groups in the game.
They arrived onstage to a deafening roar from the sold-out crowd and with just a few of their patented jumping-bean moves, the Beasties took possession of the arena. Dressed in orange jumpsuits, they launched into "The Move," from Hello Nasty, and worked the in-the-round stage like tireless hip-hop cheerleaders.
Several furious mosh pits instantly formed on the floor during "Sure Shot" (RealAudio excerpt), the lead track from 1994's Ill Communication. And by the time the Beasties hit the old-school "Skills to Pay the Bills," you almost forgot this was a hip-hop show and not a glam-pop Kiss-style arena-rock fiesta. Fans bounced, arms pumping like protestors at an emotionally charged rally.
That is what really separates the B-Boys from their rock or rap contemporaries.
There aren't many, if any, groups that could segue from hip-hop into a mini-set of speed-metalesque punk tunes such as "Time for Livin'," then head back into a rap jam on "Remote Control."
As versatile as the Beasties were, however, the generation gap that separated them from many of their fans widened at several points. The mostly under-21 crowd seemed less than enthused by the Beasties' detour into punk tunes and a half-dozen funk instrumentals. The younger fans were more keyed in to such gimmes as "Root Down," "Super Disco Breakin' " and the set-ending "So Whatcha Want," which were served up with glee by the rappers.
This gap in musical sensibilities could also explain the group's use of its new DJ, Mixmaster Mike. Sadly, except for his show-opening display of dazzling turntablism and his brief excursions during the "Three MCs and One DJ" segments of the Beasties' set, Mixmaster Mike was sorely underused.
It was a waste because Mike's bouncy enthusiasm melded seamlessly into the B-Boy universe.
He goosed the arrangements of several old B-Boys classics, most notably "Egg Man," from Paul's Boutique (1989), which he transformed from a spare, snotty rap routine into a subsonic, bottom-heavy, Miami-bass booty jam.
The Beasties also seemed to be divided between their older and younger selves at this show. Given their expressed desire to re-write many of their youthfully offensive lyrics, the inclusion of the Licensed to Ill (1986) live staple "Paul Revere" was a surprise. On the more vulgar lines in this gun and drugs song -- which includes the raunchy lyric, "I did it like this/ I did it like that/ I did it with the wiffle ball bat," in reference to sex with a groupie -- they had the audience chant the words to most of the tune.
"Paul Revere" seemed to be oddly out of context in a show in which Yauch asked the crowd to practice nonviolence and, at one point, gave a shout out to his mom and dad.
But such subtle ironies were mostly lost on adoring fans like 20-year old Justice Ivanick.
A first time Beasties show-goer, Ivanick practically leapt over his seat during the knock-out-punch encore of "Sabotage" (RealAudio excerpt). "[The show was] so f---ing bad, dude," he exclaimed. "It was better than I ever expected. All of it, even the punk stuff."