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Video Vault: 10 Classic Beastie Boys Television Performances

Words by Daniel Isenberg (@StanIpcus)

I saw the Beastie Boys live for the first time in 1994. I was barely sixteen, and a dozen or so of my friends from White Plains made the trip down to Randall’s Island for Lollapalooza, the hottest traveling music festival at the time whose bill also included my other favorite rap group A Tribe Called Quest (who I had also never seen live before). Needless to say, it was one of the most memorable live music experiences of my life.

Particularly when the Beastie Boys came on, I found myself literally jumping with joy while watching their set. This had never happened before. I was a laid-back kid, a head-bopper at best, but when they played “So What’cha Want” and “Sabatoge,” I went into full wild-out mode, catching air like I never had before, screaming lyrics, and mimicking their stage performance with my illest of adolescent rap hands. Who knew hip-hop could be so much fun?

The news of group member MCA’s passing in 2012 hit me hard, just like it did any Beastie Boys fan. It’s weird to be affected so heavily by someone’s death when you never knew them personally, but for those of us that grew up listening to their music, watching their videos religiously, and attending their concerts, it felt like we lost one of our older brothers. And it worried us for the future—does this mean there is no more Beastie Boys? But that’s the beautiful thing about music. Once you record a song or produce a video or perform at an event, and audio/video is released in some capacity, the musician becomes immortal. All these dudes—Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Biggie Smalls—still get heavy spins and clicks to this day, and this can and will continue on ‘til infinity in the case of MCA and the Beastie Boys as well.

To celebrate the 20th anniversary of me seeing the Beastie Boys live for my first time, and also the 20th anniversary of arguably my favorite album of theirs, Ill Communication, I dug into one very special YouTube user’s video archives (plus a few others too) and pulled out 10 Classic Beastie Boys Television Performances for our latest Video Vault, dating all the way back to 1984. This is in no way a comprehensive look at their TV appearance history—they were way too ubiquitous over the years to capture everything in one condensed post. But it does span the first 20 years of their career, and as a guy who idolized the trio growing up, it is a collection that I know any fellow Beasties fan and/or music lover who may not be as familiar with their songs and humor will enjoy and appreciate. RIP MCA.

1.  “White Shadow” & “Egg Raid on Mojo” (Live on The Scott and Gary Show)

The baby-faced Beasties made a very early television appearance in January of 1984 on The Scott and Gary Show, a public access cable variety program shot in New York City that was known to feature punk and indie bands. They had gained some underground buzz in NYC, and earned a slot to perform after one of the show’s hosts saw how well the crowd responded to them during their opening set at a Dead Kennedys gig. This is far from a hip-hop performance, but of course, the Beasties in their beginning stages were a punk band. It’s pretty amazing to seem them this young on camera (the drummer is Kate Schellenbach of Luscious Jackson). Don’t miss the interview at the end!

2. “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” (Live on The Late Show with Joan Rivers)

Way before Joan Rivers was the queen of Fashion Police, she had her own late night talk show, and a couple months after the Beastie Boys’ 1986 debut album Licensed to Ill dropped (which she mistakenly calls License to Kill but makes up for it with a quick comeback), they made a historic appearance on her show to perform their smash “(You Gotta) Fight For Your Right (To Party!)” and also “Time to Get Ill.” In addition, they hit the couch (and Joan’s desk) for a hilarious interview, where the trio thoroughly joked around with Joan about their history. MCA is particularly funny, and Ad-Rock does a nice Pee-wee Herman impression, too. Incredible appearance overall.

3. “Brass Monkey” (Live on Soul Train)

“I got more money than Barry White,” Mike D tells Don Cornelius as the Soul Train host lets the audience know about the Beastie Boys impressive debut album sales. It’s a perfectly-timed joke as they segue into a performance of their Licensed to Ill party-rocker “Brass Monkey.” These were three guys who knew how to have fun and make great records, and this clip is once again proof of that. I mean, who stage-dives on Soul Train? Check for Mike D doing a somersault as well.

4. “Shadrach” (Live on Soul Train)

Many hardcore Beastie Boys fans regard Paul’s Boutique as their finest work. Of course, that’s completely arguable with a discography that includes so many great albums (I’m a Check Your Head and Ill Communication guy), but this performance of the Paul’s Boutique single “Shadrach” may encourage you to dip back and check that album out if you missed it, or blow the dust off it if you already have it in your collection (which is what I just did). Deep respect to Ad-Rock for sporting the clean white Knicks warm-up top, and you gotta love the Don Cornelius call-and-response shout mid-song.

5. “So What’cha Want (Original Version and Remix)” ft. Cypress Hill (Live on The Arsenio Hall Show)

Arsenio Hall was known for having an array hip-hop acts on his show, and the Beastie Boys got their turn during the Check Your Head era to perform the album’s lead single “So What’cha Want,” and they even brought out special guests Cypress Hill to perform the remix as a surprise finale. Man, that beat switch from the original to the remix is extremely fire. And props to Beasties mainstay DJ Hurricane for kicking a tough guest verse, too. Very turnt performance (especially Ad-Rock who screams all his lyrics). Also, peep them performing “So What’cha Want” with The Roots on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon in 2009 here.

6. “Live at P.J.’s” (Live on Late Night with David Letterman)

In addition to making joints like “So What’cha Want,” the Beastie Boys revisited their instrumental roots on their third album Check Your Head. And rather than just bounce rhymes back and forth on stage to each other on Late Night with David Letterman, they came equipped and gave the viewers at home a taste of their live chops. “Live at P.J.’s” is a groovy cut for sure, as Ad-Rock opens up his rap with a classic Beastie Boys old school funk flow, “Back to the back to the beat y’all/Down with the sound so sweet y’all.” Feel this.

You can fast forward through the opening clips if you’d like, but watch for the end when Letterman comes out to shake their hands. Ad-Rock does the ill miss on the handshake, and then, what’s with Letterman telling MCA, “Don’t touch me,” when he goes in for the pound/hug combo?! Something was definitely off.

7. “Sabotage” (Live on the MTV Video Music Awards)

The Beastie Boys kept the instruments around for Ill Communication too, and put out one of the biggest hits of their career, “Sabotage,” which they performed at the MTV Video Music Awards in 1994. “Sabotage” is also one of their greatest music videos ever, but there’s nothing like seeing them rock it live in front of a screaming VMAs audience. It’s quite a moment. You can also check the footage of them performing “Sabotage” on Late Night with David Letterman here.

8. “Sure Shot” (Live on VIVA)

Don’t get it twisted. Mike D, Ad-Rock, and MCA were internationally known. And when they were out on tour in Germany in 1995, they made a stop to perform their Ill Communication single “Sure Shot” on VIVA TV. It’s a dope clip, as they casually trade “Sure Shot” bars over a random instrumental, with a small crew on the set with them. Give these guys their MC props—they always came correct.

Coincidentally, I performed “Sure Shot” with two of my friends over a random instrumental on TV once, too. Yes, I had a show on White Plains High School’s public access channel called Prime Time with Dan and Andrew (my co-host is now the executive producer of The Family Guy), and to pay homage to the Beasties, my buddies Matty B and JT and I did a “Sure Shot” performance at the end of one of our episodes during our ’94-’95 season. Check for your boy in the middle with the blue Nautica shirt and black scully playing the part of Ad-Rock here.

9. “Body Movin'” (Live on The Chris Rock Show)

Remember when Chris Rock had his own show? That was sick! And of course, since Chris Rock is a big hip-hop fan, his musical guests were always on point. The Beasties came out in their Hello Nasty jumpsuits to perform “Body Movin’,” which highlighted the album’s blend of innovative production styles (led by collaborator Mix Master Mike) and traditional b-boy raps. Check it out.

10. “Right Right Now Now” & “Shazam!” ft. Doug E. Fresh (Live on Late Night with Conan O’Brien)

The Beastie Boys’ sixth album To the 5 Boroughs was a post-9/11 dedication to the city they grew up in, and Conan O’Brien gave them the forum to bring it back to the essence with a tight performance of one of the album’s standout cuts, “Right Right Now Now.” And to add to the New York-centric feel, they brought out special guest Doug E. Fresh for a beatbox rendition of “Shazam!” They were obviously a lot older than their Licensed to Ill days here, but as you can see, the Beasties never lost a step. The interview at the end with Conan is mad funny, too.

You can also watch them perform “Right Right Now Now” on VHI Hip-Hop Honors, a clip which also features a Doug E. Fresh guest appearance and an unforgettable Run-D.M.C. tribute medley, here. And also, watch this performance of the To the 5 Boroughs cut “Ch-Check it Out” on Late Night with David Letterman, shot on the streets of NYC.

*Bonus* “The New Style” (Unaired from Chappelle’s Show)

Here’s an unaired performance from the third season that never was of Chappelle’s Show, featuring the Beastie Boys on a boat out on the East River rapping their Licensed to Ill classic “The New Style” with Dave Chappelle. The show’s co-creator Neil Brennan liberated it days after MCA’s passing in 2012.

RIP MCA. We miss you, big brother.

Lead image via UpNorthTrips.

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