Twenty years after rising to global fame with the debut of their landmark LP Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys have released a revolutionary new concert DVD. The concert was filmed live at Madison Square Garden at the end of their most recent tour in late 2004. In addition to following the traditional model of using a few strategically placed professional camera operators, the Beasties also recruited dozens of fans attending the show and armed them with cheap Hi-8 video cameras to capture the action from the crowd. The amateur operators were distributed throughout the arena, even in the nosebleed seats, so the performance and crowd response were literally covered from every possible angle. The result is a show that truly lets the viewer feel like they’re in the arena and pays tribute to the grassroots promotion and production techniques that launched hip-hop in the first place.
Here’s where it really gets mind-bending: not only can viewers watch the original theatrical release of the show that jumps between all of the feeds based on the editor’s direction, they can also select the DVD exclusive “Grid Vision” option that lets them watch ALL of the feeds at the same time in a massive grid. The grid is usually 64 screens deep, although it occasionally drops down to lower configurations to highlight specific action. Grid Vision is a brilliant addition that nearly overwhelms the senses with so much visual stimuli to process.
So how’s the show? On the whole, it’s outstanding, although it takes a hit in energy at the half-hour mark when the Beasties ditch their mics and track suits for their instruments and powder blue tuxedos for a 15 minute jam band session of some of their mid-career noodlings. Although it’s an interesting change of pace, it’s ultimately an ideal time to hit the snack bar before they come storming back in the second half with a barrage of their biggest hits. The rest of the show relies on Beasties DJ Mix Master Mike to provide the beats, and he never fails to impress with his amazing turntable wizardry.
The Beasties had two other original ideas for the presentation of this tour, and they’re given spotlight treatment as bonus features on the DVD. Before the start of each show, they dispatched camera crews to talk to the fans outside each arena, usually asking what songs they wanted to hear but also just letting fans express themselves however they wished. The footage was quickly edited and presented to the fans each night to add some local flavor and get them hyped for the show ahead. One bonus DVD feature presents a brief sampling of this footage from shows around the world.
At the beginning of each show, the house lights would go down and a video would play showing Mix Master Mike in some sort of crazy adventure such as racing golf carts backstage, stealing a record from another band, or getting in a shootout with the Beasties themselves. Eventually, MMM would make his way to the stage and the audience would realize that everything they just saw was live, causing them to go bananas when he hit the turntables with the camera still following him into action. The best of these impromptu bits are assembled in the DVD bonus features.
The encores for this tour were inventive as well. For the first encore, the Beasties usually ran to the upper deck of each arena and performed "Intergalactic" in the crowd, to the insane delight of the fans with previously poor seats. After racing back to stage, they re-emerged for a final encore back in band mode for a blistering presentation of "Sabotage", an exhilarating end to a superb concert.
As if the DVD didn’t already have enough extras, the Beasties have also include an “Insightful Band Commentary” audio track. It’s not very interesting as the comments are usually along the lines of “here we are on stage and stuff”, but their banter gets amusing at times such as when they theorize about how guest star Doug E. Fresh earned his World’s Greatest Entertainer title and how he stacks up against other great entertainers.
Other extras include an a cappella audio track so fans can “make the music with their mouths”, various footage of their temperamental tour manager, and a “hidden detour” alternate camera angle option that lets users follow specific individual cameras for bonus footage when prompted onscreen.
Finally, the DVD offers a peek into the daily life of pseudo director Nathanial Hornblower, played here by comic actor David Cross. It’s a pretty boring short as it just follows the bumbling foreigner through a mostly uneventful day in New York with only a brief encounter with MCA and Ad-Rock, but it is an unexpected addition worth a sampling for the curiosity factor alone.
It’s refreshing to see a veteran act still willing to innovate and experiment, especially when the results turn out this well. While the DVD would be worth the purchase for the original concert film alone, the wealth of extras and options elevate the package to instant classic status.
Written by Caballero Oscuro