Sunday, June 20, 2004

Having long ago earned the right to party, the Beastie Boys put up no fight Thursday evening when, of all things, a curfew brought their heavily hyped 9:30 Club show to an early end.

After storms delayed their flight from New York, the Boys were left with just 50 minutes to sample two decades of hits as well as material from their sixth studio album, “To the 5 Boroughs,” released last week.

That was just fine with Adam “MCA” Yauch, Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond, all of whom are nearing 40. The thing is, though they’re still technically the Beastie Boys, they aren’t boys anymore — and it shows.

The usually peppy trio struggled to keep up their momentum Thursday, panting between sets and holding their lower backs like the old men they used to snuff. “It’s a real MC workout here,” Mr. Diamond told DJ Mixmaster Mike nine short songs into the night, sounding surprised at his own shortness of breath.

So the early cutoff was received less like an oppressive dictum and more like a godsend. At midnight, Mike D, MCA and Ad-Rock barely tipped their trucker hats goodnight before nodding out of the premises. It was a fitting end to a show that found its time-traveling ambitions persistently dogged by the present.

As they have since their 1981 formation, the Beasties are treading untrodden ground. In the ‘80s, they defined white rap. Later, they pioneered retro sampling. Today, they’re charging into more uncertain waters: middle age.

Pay attention, Eminem. It turns out it’s a tricky thing to be a lanky white hip-hopper pushing 40, and the Beastie Boys’ struggle shows.

Thankfully, some things haven’t changed.

For one, although the show was short, it also was sweet. With tracks stretching from 1986 (“Brass Monkey”) to 1992 (“Skills to Pay the Bills”) to 1998 (“Intergalactic,” their best show piece), the Beastie Boys showed they still can rock.

Behind that predictable Beasties beat, there’s still a reliable mix of retro cuts and up-to-the-minute pop tracks. Thursday night, Mixmaster Mike spun Kelis’ “Milkshake” behind the Beasties’ “Brass Monkey” to create a winning combination.

Some things have changed, though.

MCA’s hair is graying, and none of the three can run around like they used to.

No matter how hard they pushed themselves to re-create their former brilliance, it was clear that even the Beasties’ best performances were once done better.

Even in their new music, with its motions toward an earlier time, the older, changed Beasties kept escaping the youthful trappings of old-school beats. Apparently world-weary in the new millennium, the Beasties have become, tragically, serious.

In 1986, they wanted us to “fight for your right to party.” Today, they say they’re “partying for the right to fight.” It’s a noble goal, but the Beastie Boys as we know them just aren’t the right men for the job.

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