Beastie Boys

Wembley Arena, London - 7 December 2004

"Better now than they've ever been"

[Beastie Boys ticket]If tonight's performance were to be released as an album, then its title should undoubtedly be "To The 32 Boroughs", for the Beasties seemed, beyond the usual sycophancy, to have a soft spot for the English capital. What a swell party this was. I've been to Wembley Arena many times over the years, often to see bands of which I am a huge fan. I'm not a huge fan of the Beastie Boys, yet this was the most fun atmosphere I've experienced at the cavernous venue. Anyone who has paid a visit to the north London venue, will testify that its hardly built for a party. Yet that is exactly what these three NYC boys pulled off. The mood was set when, in very Spinal Tap fashion, live pictures of the band being dragged out of their tour bus outside the arena were beamed onto to large screens above the stage. "Are we in London?" one of them asked wearily as if rubbing sleep from his eyes. The burly bodyguards directed them backstage and they emerged, left stage, jogging into a screaming arena in green football shirts.

The set was structured in four parts: rap, full live band, more rap and encore live band. During the rap sections Mixmaster Mike impressed everyone with his amazing scratching skills. Flexing vinyl as he twisted it on the decks, whipping the crossfader, spinning himself around between scratches and taking the odd well-deserved bow, Mike D was an essential component in the energetic buzz that these boys generated. In spite of the display technology being utilised on stage, there was an urban, real feel which transcended the unsympathetic surroundings so much that before long they simply did not matter. Given the lengths to which some bands go to do it all live it seemed slightly ironic that this felt like the most interactive gig I'd been to. [Beastie Boys]

After a fast costume change into matching light blue lounge suits, the boys took up their instruments for the funky, wah, wah, midsection of the set that built up to a blistering Something's Got To Give. This on a small country fair like stage that was wheeled into place by stage hands. Decked out with strings of red and white bulbs, it looked like some music god had just cut them out of a Tennessee summer evening fundraiser and dropped them into north London for the night. Another sartorial switch (back to orange T's, jeans, sneakers and baseball caps), and we entered the second half of the set and we were back in the five boroughs - complete with images of subway trains and graffiti. Body Movin' had the boys leaping and bounding more than ever. This added to an irrepressible teen party atmosphere that pervaded the entire evening. It was like having naughty fun whilst your parents were away for the weekend.

Then, before you knew it, two hours had almost passed and the band waved and scurried off stage. Then, in what proved to be the performance highlight of the event, the three boys suddenly emerged in a small, fenced-off section behind the mixing desk, slap bang in the middle of the arena. The audience went bonkers, and folk like me in the 'cheap' seats near the back got a great view of the boys running around slapping hands with the fans as they launched into the [Beastie Boys]almighty Intergalactic. The performance was superb, the response was ecstatic. What a show!

The band's cultural points of reference include Miss Piggy, Mr Spock and Atari VCS games - all the best things about America. In contrast, back on the portable band stage for the closing minutes, they dedicated the final song of the set to George Bush (cue voluminous boos from the crowd). "It could be worse you don't live there!" came the response. Having invoked the name 'Bush', even those with only a modest interest in the band knew that final song had to therefore be Sabotage. With the insane crashing, bashing, guitar riffs, scratches and keyboards that go up to make one of their finest songs, it was a fittingly frenzied way to end the night.

There was no Fight For Your Right, and, frankly, it would have lessened a set of songs that bristled with invention, stomped all over rules about genre boundaries and demonstrated just what a solid and varied bunch of tunes these three boys have knocked out over their twenty-plus year career. The Beasties are better now than they've ever been, and nobody, but nobody knows how to have more fun.

Rob Dyer