|NME - April Long:
Tonight, the first of two benefit shows organised by the Beastie Boys to raise money for those affected by the September 11 atrocities, there's something for everyone. The ideology behind the event is noble - to promote peaceful resolution to the conflicts in the Middle East and in Tibet. Tomorrow night, Bono, Moby and Michael Stipe will make an unannounced appearance before the Beasties' set where they'll sing never-more-poignant versions of The Velvet Underground's 'All Tomorrow's Parties' and Neil Young's 'Helpless'. It's quite a star-studded event, to say the least.
Still, for the first three hours tonight you might think the Beasties mean to avert violence by lulling us into a state of comatose boredom. Unimaginative indie janglers Rival Schools (ex of hardcore legends Quicksand and Gorilla Biscuits) are competent and earnest, but duller than an alt-rock bar band circa 1992. Kitsch collective Cibo Matto look cute, dance barefoot and have Sean Lennon lurking in the shadows on guitar, but their stab at psychedelia tonight is even less endearing than their usual chirpy lounge-pop. Pakistani singer Rahat Fatah Ali Khan comes as a pleasant and soothing surprise with his white-clad chanting fellows, but they seem to make everyone feel thirsty and disappear to the bar. The B-52's are the same as ever, only older and fatter, but spark discontented mutterings for not playing 'Love Shack'.
In between each set, a Beastie introduces a speaker, the most interesting of whom is Benjamin R Barber, who wrote the book Jihad Vs McWorld. In the non-proselytising but gently encouraging tone that characterises the whole evening, he talks about how romantic idealism needs to become political realism, but even he doesn't seem sure how we can get there.
Yoko Ono then provides the most surreal and inadvertently hilarious five minutes of the whole night, telling a story about a radio DJ in St Petersburg (at least, that's what it sounds like she's saying - how can she have lived in America for 30 years and still not be able to speak English?), before bursting into a caterwauling howl that sounds something like "Yow wow yow wooh mow mow!" and abruptly leaving the stage. The Strokes emerge in a haze of sapphire light to Sonic Youth's version of The Carpenters' 'Superstar', which segues into the opening notes of 'Is This It' and suddenly the atmosphere in the venue shifts to keen interest and stifled excitement. As they will do three nights later when they headline the Ballroom themselves, they perform in near darkness.
After so much hype-driven media babble about how cool and handsome they are, they simply let the music speak for itself, and it works beautifully. Of course, we're really here for one thing - to see the Beasties pass the mic for the first time in two years. As they stride onto the stage - cleared of everything save Mixmaster Mike's DJ booth - the place goes bananas. Even though the set is short, the Boys pull out all of the stops and most of the hits - ripping through revamped versions of 'Root Down', 'Sure Shot', 'Intergalactic', 'Alive' and 'So Whatcha Want' so fast Ad-Rock loses his place twice and has to start over. It's all a fantastic demonstration of how and why the Beasties have managed to remain relevant for nearly 15 years - half taking the piss, half consummate skill. Mixmaster Mike deftly weaves garage tunes and nu-skool hip-hop into the original songs, while Ad-Rock minces around like a class clown, Mike D throws ironic shapes and Adam Yauch presides stiffly over the proceedings like a judge. At one point, he stops to remind us of the rescue workers who are "doing the real work" and says he hopes we all carry the message of non-violence with us when we leave.
People may have come to see the Beasties rather than embrace their politics, but when the Ballroom resounds with thousands of voices chanting "It's about time/We got to get together!", it's clear their work here is done.