With apologies to Thomas Wolfe, the notion that you can’t go home again was dashed to bits this past week when the Beastie Boys — perhaps the most Gotham-steeped combo to emerge from the burg since the Ramones — returned to offer up a three-pack of decidedly diverse, wildly received perfs.
One day after playing their first-ever show in Brooklyn — that it was their first was something of a surprise given the number of times they’ve referenced the borough in song — the trio staged this mostly instrumental event, ostensibly to promote the just-released, vocal-free Capitol album “The Mix-Up.”
That disc did provide the bedrock for the long, loopy set, but the trio — augmented by a troika of longtime collaborators — reached back into their catalog for some equally compelling offerings, like the “Ill Communication” favorite “Ricky’s Theme,” which exuded the radiant shimmer of a Big Apple pavement on a hot August night.
A good many of the newer offerings covered a relatively narrow patch of soul-jazz territory — one more akin to Jimmy Smith than Grant Green — which made focusing something of a chore, particularly on noodling numbers like “Electric Worm.” But when the Beasties spiced that mix with outside flavors (as on the Bomb Squad-inflected “14th Street Break”), things livened up considerably.
None of the Beasties are what you’d call virtuosos, but each showed flashes of brilliance. Mike D can still fire off the percussive equivalent of a 95-mile-per-hour fastball, as he proved when propelling the band through a take on the vintage thrasher “Egg Raid on Mojo,” while Adam “MCA” Yauch evinced an striking fluency in stoner-dub bass lines on “Off the Grid.”
As they proved by backloading the set with fan favorites like “Sure Shot” and “So What’cha Want,” the Beastie Boys still carry that old-school entertainer gene in their collective DNA. But as long as they’re willing to take chances like those woven into “The Mix-Up,” they’re not likely to go the way of the Borscht Belt anytime soon.