The Beastie Boys played their first show in more than two-and-a-half years last night (Oct. 28) at New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom, at the first of two New Yorkers Against Violence benefits, which the rap trio organized. The show featured Pakistani vocalist Rahat Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, plus a host of local talent, including rapper Saul Williams and rock outfits Rival Schools, Cibo Matto, the Strokes, and the B-52s.
All proceeds will benefit Sept. 11 relief efforts via the New York Association for New Americans and the New York Women’s Foundation.
Hitting the live stage for the first time since the Tibetan Freedom Concert in July 1999, the Beastie Boys played a 40-minute hip-hop set, running through a smorgasbord of tunes such as “Intergalactic,” “Root Down,” “Sure Shot,” and “Pass the Mic” with DJ Mixmaster Mike providing the beats. The rust was apparent, with group members Adam Yauch and Adam Horovitz asking to stop the music at points because they didn’t remember lyrics. But the minimalist set-up allowed them to touch on material spanning their career and easily segue from one song to the next.
The penultimate set came from one of the bill’s most unusual acts: the B-52s. The 25-year-old new wave band, still featuring four original members — Cindy Wilson, who briefly left the group in the ’90s, back with vocalists Fred Schneider and Kate Pierson and guitarist Keith Strickland — put on a dance party set heavily rooted in its earliest material, such as “Rock Lobster,” “Lava,” and “Dance This Mess Around” from its 1979 debut.
The Strokes, playing their first hometown gig since the American release of its RCA debut, “Is This It,” hit the high points of that album such as “Last Nite,” “Hard to Explain,” “Barely Legal,” and set closer “Take It or Leave It.” The group returns for a sold-out show at the same venue on Wednesday.
Cibo Matto got its set off to an appropriately unusual start with a trancey cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” Group member Sean Lennon later introduced his mother Yoko Ono, who gave a short speech that was punctuated by some of her trademark primal yelping.
Khan’s performance added a worldly flair to the proceedings, with extended, trance-like songs performed in the traditional Qawwali style. Rival Schools touched on thick rockers such as “Used for Glue” and “Travel by Telephone” from its Island debut “United by Fate,” while a live band kicked up a noisy backing behind the spoken/sung poetry of Williams, who starred in the 1998 film “Slam.”
In between sets, DJ Stretch Armstrong spun a veritable tour-de-force of rock history, loaded with favorites from the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and U2. The event continues again tonight with the Beastie Boys, Khan, Mos Def, the Roots, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Afrika Bambaata, and as-yet-unnamed special guests.