“We were as much Monty Python as we were Black Flag,” proclaim the remaining members of one of the greatest hip hop bands ever in Beastie Boys Story, which debuts Friday on Apple TV+
Thoroughly entertaining and heartbreaking when it addresses the 2012 death from cancer of bandmate Adam Yauch, the live documentary of sorts fronted by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz is 100% aimed at middle age hard-core fans like myself who consider the trio’s Paul Boutique album to be the Sgt. Pepper of hip hop.
However, if you are not already a member of the tribe, this anecdotal effort directed by longtime band collaborator Spike Jonze may just not capture your fancy. Despite the now middle-aged Mike D and Ad-Rock pacing the stage of Brooklyn’s Kings Theater with tales of fame and ingenuity, a lot of this film is primarily a slicked up, stripped down and juiced up Behind the Music.
Yet, beyond the fandom and the tales of commercial and artistic of tragedy and triumph, Beastie Boys Story is most importantly a rock-solid embrace of the power of friendship. The affection and respect Diamond and Horovitz have for the departed Yauch is a beautiful thing to see and feel; I just wish so much of the film hadn’t been so mired in crowd-pleasing shtick.
To that end, from their very early party-playing punk rock days to their prank call “Cooky Pus” single and crashing an Afrika Bambaataa TV appearance to promote the track, the no-frills-titled Beastie Boys Story is pretty much a filmed onstage mixtape of Diamond and Horovitz’s comprehensive Beastie Boys Book from 2018. Not that that’s all together a bad thing for one of the most innovative and enduring combos of the hip hop era we all live in now.
Granted, in a near perfect marriage for the hit-hunting Apple TV+ streaming service, the nearly two-hour long documentary isn’t as “fresh, fly, wild and bold,” to paraphrase Ad-Rock, as the Spike Lee-helmed Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth. Neither is Beastie Boys Story as reflectively inclusive as the Emmy-winning Springsteen on Broadway.
However, with apologies galore for their “young and drunk” louche antics of sexism and more that are best waved behind them by Mike D as being “memorable jerks,” it is all the messes and magic that could be the Beastie Boys, just not always in the right measure – and I don’t say that in a got-to-be-cruel-to-be-kind sort of way.
What I will say is that the last show of the duo’s 2018 book tour, the King’s Theater performance is also not the best Beastie Boys show I’ve ever seen – but that standard is sky high for this once top live act.
Filling the spaces in the script and obvious charms of the hosts, Beastie Boys Story is jam packed with mocked “crazy shit” shouts out – it’s a thing, trust me. It also is filled with bows of respect to The Clash and Bad Brains, plus cameos from Madonna, who the band once opened for, wrestler Roddy Piper, the Three Stooges, Russell Simmons, original and discarded band member Kate Schellenbach, producers the Dust Brothers, Lollapalooza tours and a rediscovery of their old NYC scene.
Even with a couple of “I fucked up the teleprompter” moments that keep things just that little bit fresh, the self-deprecating performance art doesn’t reinvent a genre the way the band themselves repeatedly did. Beastie Boys Story also won’t grind away at the performance art legacy of the late great Spalding Grey nor the genius of Luck McCormick, let alone Iron Mike’s 2012 show that became a 2013 HBO special.
What it will do is give you a very specific tour of the last 40 years of American culture.
Dropping classics like 1992’s Check Your Head, 1994’s Ill Communication, and 2004’s To the 5 Boroughs, the Beastie Boys have long been so much more than their unintentional frat boy anthem “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” – and you learn all that from the source so to speak here.
What you will also take away is that love can truly be art.
After over an hour of Diamond and Horovitz spinning yarns, the tears are right on the cusp when the duo discuss the passing of Youch, who co-founded the indie production company Oscilloscope Laboratories, and snap you right back into the heart of what this is really all about: love.
A filmmaker, an advocate for a Free Tibet, the Buddhist Yauch had directed many of the Beasties’ iconic videos, and took the band and the beloved art form of hip hop to a new level as the trio matured. His death saw an outpouring of tributes from the realms of music, film, faith and, as we see here, his brothers in Beastie.
Long review short: It takes a while to get there and doesn’t always stick, but losing the shtick, Beastie Boys Story hits you like a bass drum when it finds its (heart)beat in a eulogy to Adam Yauch.