Friday was a weird day. The death of Adam Yauch weighed it down considerably. Pretty tough to get through a Gen-X life without feeling the impact of the Beastie Boys, and with Yauch out of commission for some time and the band in general having kept a pretty low profile for most of the past decade or so, it had been easy to forget how influential they were on our world. Licensed To Ill was the soundtrack to my fifth grade year, which may have been life-altering in imperceptible ways (certainly the most perfect fifth-grader fantasy record ever, if nothing else), but the real game-changer was seeing the band at Lollapalooza in 1994. I didn’t even know they played instruments until that day. It was like seeing five bands at once, and the energy they projected from the stage made pretty much every show I’d seen up to that point (and the Smashing Pumpkins set that followed) seem boring as hell. Suddenly I realized it was okay for an alternakid to dig hip hop and R&B and jazz too, and life would never be the same.
I hadn’t thought about the Beasties much for a long time, though. The peak of my fandom came with Hello Nasty and the Sounds Of Science anthology (if I could only listen to one remix of anything ever again, it would be the Fatboy Slim “Body Movin’” for sure); after 1999 my focus started shifting mostly to metal and jambands for quite a while. During the long break before 2004’s To The 5 Boroughs I almost completely lost interest, and that album did nothing to reinvigorate me. From then on I occasionally listened to the 80s and 90s stuff and that’s it. So then there was that twinge of guilt when I heard MCA was gone, like I’d abandoned this dude who was once such a huge part of my life. I spent the afternoon remembering Beastie memories, getting gradually sadder and not really feeling like going out at all. My wife ended up getting sick; she wasn’t up for Cactus Club. The usual reports began to roll in from friends who weren’t coming to the show after all. But some folks were still in, including a couple from out of town, and I’d been looking forward to this lineup ever since it had been announced.
Even before walking through the door, friendly faces greeted us. Inside, old Beasties videos splattered the silent TV screens, and plenty of Beasties tunes peppered the mix coming out of the speakers. It was impossible to be sad. More friends arrived. Two-Hearted Ale flowed. We walked into the stage area as Altos started playing, and the superiority of Cactus over most local clubs immediately asserted itself. For one thing, most consistently excellent sound in town, no question; if you play Cactus Club and it sounds like shit, that’s on you, not engineer Alex Hall. For another thing, with the bar in the other room and the door closed, everybody shuts the hell up and pays attention. This makes things almost too easy for Altos; with a rapt audience and crystal clear acoustics, this band can’t help but blow minds. It’s dark music, but it is incomparably uplifting. No denying it, my soul was in need of a grand spiritual experience through sublime music, and the stuff the Altos make is what does it for me.
I hopped across the street to Club Garibaldi to catch some twang rock courtesy of Lisa Ridgely & The Fainting Room, who were having their EP (Wine In Bed) release party. Exciting to see yet another group sounding fully-realized right out of the gates playing well-crafted tunes as the Milwaukee folk-rock scene grows and expands in all directions. Then it was back to Cactus for Burning Sons, a chance to let out some naked aggression; not exactly the same kind of hardcore that the Beastie Boys started out on, but originating in the same era, possessed of a similar raw attitude. It works pretty much every night, but tonight it really worked.
For the second time in the span of a month, Northless was featured on an odd bill, although there was no surrogate Sat. Nite Duets tonight. For a second time, Northless was impeccably brutal and monstrously impressive. Lurching, mathematical sludge as heavy as anything you can imagine, and the two new tracks slated for the band’s forthcoming split LP with Light Bearer that we heard were fantastic. After being through the emotional ringer all day, we headbanged our way back to some sort of normalcy.Nothing left to do but go home and reminisce into the wee hours with Hello Nasty cranked, an album as eclectic and awesome as this night of Milwaukee-made music. The only sad moment was “I Don’t Know”, and it was only sad for a moment. The tune that had always struck me as one of the oddest in the Beastie canon now made perfect sense. It sounded like a calm, peaceful MCA whispering from the great beyond, his lack of understanding somehow a comfort for all of us confused living folk. Yep, he’ll be missed, but we can always hear his voice any time we need to feel better about it.