“Where do I know you from?”
Adam Yauch asked me that in 2006, when I stepped into a hotel conference room in Austin, Texas, to interview all three Beastie Boys during the South by Southwest Music Conference. The only response I could think of was something like, “Nowhere, except maybe your shows from way back.”
Getting all three Beasties together at once in an interview was a rare treat, but it actually wound up being a big pain in the ass. Yauch’s two bandmates, Mike Diamond and Adam (Ad-Rock) Horovitz, spent much of the conversation trying to outwit each other with smart-ass answers. The graying but otherwise still youthful-looking Yauch (a k a MCA) was a little more serious, but he also wound up delivering the most laughable quip of all -- a snarky response when one of Horovitz’s jokey answers went on too long. “I just thought up an idea for a song while you were giving that answer,” he cracked.
Despite what went down that day, it’s mighty depressing to hear today that Yauch will never again be in a room with his bandmates. He died at age 48 following a long battle with cancer. We knew things were serious when Yauch couldn’t appear at last month’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction. We also learned just how cool and engrained the three Beasties were to each other when Ad-Rock and Mike D refused to perform at the Hall of Fame ceremony without him. Whether or not they keep that pledge -- I personally wouldn’t insist that they do -- the Beasties as we know them are clearly over, and thus ends the career of one of the most important acts of my youth.
Probably the most memorable Beasties performances I saw were in Texas, including their set just before Smashing Pumpkins on the fourth (and best) Lollalapooza tour in 1994, the “Ill Communication” era when they were proving themselves to be versatile musicians and not just rappers. Their SXSW gig after I interviewed them in 2006 was unforgettable, too, mainly because it was at a 2,000-capacity venue, Stubb’s. Lots of Twin Cities music lovers fondly remember the group’s earlier shows at First Avenue (their star is on the wall, of course).
The Beasties’ last local show was quite a serious one at Roy Wilkins Auditorium in 2008, part of a get-out-the-vote through through swing states just before the presidential election. Seems like a rather fitting local farewell, since the main social activist in the group was Yauch.