This week Live Wire begins with a tribute to the Beastie Boys and Adam Yauch, aka MCA, who passed away on May 4, and a recollection of the Beastie Boys’ appearance at the Tibet Freedom Concert in Taipei in 2003.
The last time I saw the Beastie Boys was in Taipei when they came here in 2003 for the Tibet Freedom Concert. I have a fond memory of that show, not because they were particularly great (their performance was spirited and fun but nothing mind-blowing), but because seeing them reminded me of a milestone in my own life: my first ever rock ’n’ roll concert.
I was 12 years old, living in the US, and ridiculously excited that the Beastie Boys were coming to Columbus, Ohio, which was near my hometown. The year was 1987, and like every MTV-watching teenager across the US, I knew every line from every song on their album License to Ill, which had just come out, scandalized suburbia and pushed hip-hop into the mainstream.
My first concert turned out to be quite the eye-opener. It felt surreal to be able to see my heroes, Ad-rock, Mike D and MCA, on a stage in the flesh, as opposed to seeing them prancing about in MTV videos. Then there were other memorable firsts. It was the first time I had experienced punk and ska played live — the opening acts were Murphy’s Law, a hardcore band, and Fishbone. It was also the first time I had ever seen a woman bare her breasts in person: on stage, there was a go-go dancer in a cage who took her top off during the show.
My memory of the music that night was eclipsed by the Beasties’ stage antics. From offstage, roadies would toss cans of beer to the band members, who would take a gulp, and then fling them into the audience. As the show ended, a life-size inflatable penis shot up from a trap door on stage.
My friends and I could barely process it all; we just cackled and laughed as youngsters do. (Our oldest chaperone was my friend’s 15-year-old brother, and his parents, who drove us to the concert and were nice enough to wait in the car in the parking lot.)
I went home secretly confused, but outwardly reeling with excitement, and I had a few controversial mementos in tow. Against my better judgment, I brought home Beastie Boys-branded T-shirts that read “Get Off My Dick” on the back for our neighbors’ children, who badly wanted to go the show but couldn’t get tickets. Claiming it was the “Christian thing” to do, their parents burned the shirts. My mom sewed a patch on mine.
These memories came flooding back 14 years later as I stood amongst some 12,000 revelers in Taipei at the Songshan Cigarette Factory (松山菸廠) watching the Beasties perform. Of course, this being a Tibet Freedom Concert, the obnoxious prankster spirit that burned in my mind from the Beastie Boys of 1987 was nowhere to be found. Instead, the atmosphere was full of positive vibes. Tibetan expats got in free (it was a novelty to see so many monks in robes at a rock show, especially in Taipei). And it seemed like every single hippie backpacker in Asia was in town.
The Beastie Boys breezed through a mash-up set of their greatest hits. They looked a bit stiff, as veteran aging rockers often do, but they grooved and the audience did, too. Just the fact that they were in Taipei was exciting enough.
Instead of DJ Hurricane, it was Mix Master Mike. Instead of Fishbone and Murphy’s Law opening, it was a monk, dubbed “Tibet’s Michael Jackson,” who played the flute and Taiwanese indie pop band Tizzy Bac. Instead of a striptease from a go-go dancer in a cage, DPP legislator Hsiao Bi-khim (蕭美琴) offered a limp rally speech before the Beasties’ set. (I cringed when she told the crowd “Let’s fight for our right to party”). And instead of a big inflatable penis standing at the back of the stage, there was a Tibetan flag hanging in the backdrop.