NEW YORK — On Wednesday evening, a line formed around the southwest corner of the Maritime Hotel, a swanky boutique hotel that serves as the figurehead of the nightlife renaissance of the Meatpacking District. In recent years, the neighborhood, on Manhattan's West Side, has become a slice of Miami's South Beach, and the crisply blazered men and skirted women drinking cocktails in the hotel's outdoor pavilion seemed beamed in from an episode of FX's South Florida-centric "Nip/ Tuck."
But there were only a few folks fitting that description in the aforementioned queue: Most were the baseball-capped, T-shirt- or tube-top-clad types that, when they hear that the Beastie Boys are playing a benefit, come out of the woodwork. Around 11:30 p.m., the trio hit the stage of the hotel's Hiro Ballroom to a rapturous crowd that paid from $50 (general admission) to $875 (VIP) to see what had to be the most intimate Beastie Boys show in New York since a surprise Thanksgiving gig at the now-defunct club Coney Island High in 1995.
Wednesday's show, titled Gimme Shelter, was organized by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and Rational Animal (www.rational-animal.org), a local animal-welfare advocacy group, to benefit various similar charities. The stated purpose of the benefit was to raise awareness of a movement toward "no-kill shelters," as opposed to animal shelters that euthanize dogs and cats without homes due to lack of space or available adopters.
The Beastie Boys' Ad-Rock (Adam Horovitz) has been a vocal supporter of Rational Animal recently, and many of the acts on the bill, notably neo-cabaret wunderkind Nellie McKay, made impassioned pleas on behalf of the humane treatment of animals. The lineup included Joe and Albert Bouchard of '70 hard-rock savants Blue Öyster Cult, '80s pop craftsman Marshall Crenshaw, local New York punk revivalists the Star Spangles, local Irish-rock institution Joe Hurley and the Gents and '70s parody-punk band the Sic F---s.
That said, most of the people there seemed indifferent to the cause — it likely would have suited them equally if the Beastie Boys performed to benefit recently disgraced Florida congressman Mark Foley, although footage of puppies and cats projected in between acts produced audible "ooh"s and murmurs of "so cute!"
Around 8 p.m., a New York quintet called More took the stage. The band's full-throated, anthemic grunge stylings and wardrobe suggested Creed trying to be 20-something inhabitants of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Next up were the Choke, an energetic amalgam of '70s punk that was introduced by Handsome Dick Manitoba, the frontman of Ramones contemporaries the Dictators. In his typically gruff, Noo Yawk cadence, he remarked that he loved animals so much that he was willing to miss the concurrent playoff of his beloved New York Yankees to be at the benefit (the game was rained out anyway).
The Choke concluded with a cover of David Bowie's "Diamond Dogs," the first of several pet-themed covers of the evening. The band was followed by the Sic F*cks, complete with a stocking-clad male guitarist and gross-out evergreens like "Chop Up Your Mama." Next, McKay, who is exceptional as a 24-year-old steeped in pre-rock pop, Broadway and torch-singing — and also for her political convictions — sat alone at the piano and banged out the upbeat likes of "The Dog Song" and a tune about cats in which she trilled, "pounce, pounce, pounce." An avowed and committed member of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, she concluded her short set exhorting the audience to protest Columbia University's animal-testing programs.
Next up was Crenshaw, who began with a power-trio rendition of Tom Jones' "What's New Pussycat?" and proceeded through his own signature tunes "Cynical Girl" and "Someday, Someway." He was followed by Hurley and his Gents, whose boozy, rollicking set touched down on Hurley's tune "Greek Diner" and a medley of the Stooges' "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and the Rolling Stones' "Gimme Shelter."
The aforementioned acts received a polite, if perfunctory, reception. That all changed when the lights dimmed and hostess Chi Chi Valenti announced the arrival of Mix Master Mike. With a few deftly matched beats, the Beastie's DJ of a near-decade dispatched everything that had previously happened onstage to a distant realm and roused the crowd's attention. And then Ad-Rock, MCA and Mike D bounded out from backstage and began a series of their hits.
From "Body Movin' " to "Root Down" and "Shake Your Rump," "Pass the Mic" to "Sure Shot," the three employed their signature tag-team approach to rhyme-spitting, a hip-hop technique that has been largely abandoned since the mid '80s. They also made sure to cover material from nearly their entire two-decades-long career, breaking out "Slow and Low" from 1986's Licensed to Ill, "Intergalactic" from 1998's Hello Nasty and "Triple Trouble" from their 2004 love letter to their hometown, To the Five Boroughs.
The Beastie Boys seemed invigorated and delighted to rock a crowd for what was one of their only shows of the year — they made an appearance at Austin's South by Southwest festival in March while promoting their concert film "Awesome: I F---in' Shot That" (see "South By Southwest: An Embarrassment Of Rock Riches Despite The Crowds"). In an hour-long set, the three paused only to crack wise with one another, to periodically ask if Brooklyn was in the house and to express support for the consortium of animal-welfare groups, chiefly Rational Animal.
And if any of the band's fans — cheering, singing along, bobbing their heads, grooving in place and throwing their hands in the air — took notice of the purpose of the evening, that's all to the good.
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.