As a bassist for various local Huntsville bands, Trevar Akins has “played to many ashtrays and empty bar stools,” as he puts it. He’s done original music, covers, deep cuts, whatever. But none of his bands really connected with audiences or were a strong draw in bars.
Until the Beastie Goys. In 2019, Akins and his friend Jeff Woods, a percussionist, came up with the idea of forming a Beastie Boys tribute band that would perform the music of this crazy rap trio, known for hits from the ’80s and ’90s like “Sabotage” and “Fight For.” Your Right” and “So What’Cha Want.”
An early version of the Goys debuted at a friend’s house party. “And people just lost their minds,” says Akins. “We thought, alright, we could have something.”
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Huntsville, like many cities, has no shortage of cover bands. Skillful and entertaining as some may be, it often ends up being background music. A live playlist for bar-goers to drink and entertain. However, the Beastie Goys have a very different effect on a room. “When we start playing,” says Akins, “they get up, stand up, go onto the dance floor and spit the words back. It’s kind of overwhelming, man.”
In fact, the music of the Beastie Boys has a wide appeal. The rare group that rock, punk, rap, alternative and metal fans in general can get their heads around. And since the Beastie Boys are now 10 years old — the group ended in 2012 after rapper/bassist Adam “MCA” Yauch died of cancer at the age of 43 — fans won’t be able to see the original. Huntsville’s Beastie Goys are by no means the first Beastie tribute. Others have included groups with names like Brass Monkeys, Check Your Head, and an all-female combo called She’s Crafty. But these are all based in other parts of the country.
The Beastie Goys are a full band with three MCs and a DJ, not just a bunch of guys rapping over a track from a laptop. In addition to Akins and Woods, the line-up includes rappers Scott Eason, Nima Naderi and Aaron Hoffman, guitarist Jerome Villarreal Jr. and drummer Stephen Baumgartner. Hoffman is also the group’s DJ. Aside from the flute loop for the song “Sure Shot,” the Beastie Goys make every sound on stage themselves. “Aaron, when he’s scratching[on his DJ turntables],” says Eason, “he’s so pedantic, he goes out and finds his own samples and uses them instead of just pulling them from a Beastie Boys CD. I think it adds to the authenticity of the music. And I think people appreciate that.”
Aside from the popular source material, well executed and fresh concept, there’s another reason the Beastie Goys are a strong local attraction. They don’t play a lot of shows. A lot of local cover acts perform so frequently (and, to be fair, they’re often working musicians paying their rent with gig money) that the sense of urgency to hear them fades: “Oh, I will them just catch next week. ” But with Beastie Goys only appearing every few months or so, it’s more of a must-see. “We want it to be a special event when we play here in Huntsville,” says Eason. “We don’t want to oversaturate by playing locally too often.” The Goys are starting to book shows in other cities, he says.
Since the Fractal Brewing Project opened in September 2019, they have only hosted three live music shows that have filled the brewery to capacity. Two were Beastie Goy’s shows. “The energy of the band and the audience was incredible,” says Fractal owner Larry Lowe. “You can’t beat 250 people singing ‘Fight For Your Right’ at full volume.”
Fractal – located on the former site of Straight To Ale at 3200 Leeman Ferry Road – takes pride in their brewery and beer. But they’re away from the city’s popular entertainment districts, like Downtown, West Huntsville, or MidCity. So getting people into Fractal was a challenge at times. “We’re on an island,” says Lowe figuratively. “Live music was a huge help in attracting people to our venue.” Fractal has invested in lighting, staging and sound to ensure the shows and sound are well set up and easy for the musicians. Lowe hopes traffic around the brewery will increase once nearby Joe Davis Stadium restarts with minor-league football and John Hunt Park is fully activated.
There was a clever symbiosis between Fractal and Beastie Goys. Two years in a row they’ve teamed up for “Sourtage” – the title, a nod to the punk-tinged Beasties hit “Sabotage” – featuring a series of fractal sour beers and culminating in a Beastie Goys set. Sourtage, a fundraiser for mental health services, raised approximately $10,000 that year. They are already planning Sourtage 2023, says Lowe.
The band’s name cleverly uses “goy,” a slang term used by Jews to refer to someone who isn’t Jewish. None of these Huntsville musicians are Jewish. The real Beastie Boys, which included Yauch, Michael Diamond (aka Mike D) and Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), were Jewish white kids from New York. The Beasties exploded into superstardom after the release of their debut album, License To Ill, in 1986. Of course, this made the trio’s excellence in the black-originated and dominated world of rap even more intriguing.
The sound of the Beastie Boys continued to evolve. From the hair metal rap on License To Ill to the artful sample collages on the masterful 1989 second LP Paul’s Boutique to the punk funk sound of Check Your Head and Ill Communication and back to rap on “Hello Nasty” again.
Easton not only raps for the Goys, but is also a stand-up comedian. As a comic he has opened shows for the likes of Colin Jost, Joel McHale and most recently Dave Atell. Puns and speaking rhythms honed in comedy clubs come in handy in Beastie Goys, the first band Eason was in. “Fortunately, as a comedian, all I really do is talk,” he says. Eason and Naderi have been close friends since attending Grissom High School together in the ’90s. For years, Naderi would pick up an acoustic guitar at parties and play a tune or two. But Beastie Goys is on stage for the first time. “Nima is a natural,” says Akins.
Eason and Akins have been Beastie Boys fans since middle school, drawn to the hooligan swagger in License To Ill. forest, not so much. He’s a bit older than the rest of the group and is more into hard rock bands like Rush and Led Zeppelin. But the group finally won him over when he heard some of the Beasties’ later instrumental recordings, leading him to reconsider the hits. “The grooves and the vocal hooks are just great,” says Woods. “You can’t help but sing along.”
Woods, who is also in local disco cover act DiscOasis, thinks Beastie Goys is the band he’s worked hardest in when it comes to preparation. The three rappers rehearse separately in addition to the full band rehearsals. The zigzagging vocal tradeoffs between MCA, Mike D and Ad-Rock are an integral part of Beastie Boys songs. And a challenge to get through effectively on stage. Woods says the Goys “won’t happen without these three guys as MCs.”
Interestingly, Eason, Naderi, and Hoffman aren’t all “portraying” a specific Beastie Boy. Eason might be MCA on one song, but he’s Mike D on the next. They split the vocals, says Eason, “just what suits each of our personalities. And sometimes it’s like, ‘I love that line or that verse and I want to do it,’ and then it just sort of evolves from there.”
Traditionally, tribute acts dress up like the artists whose music they are performing. In recent years, some tributes have focused entirely on replicating the music and dropping the visuals. The Goys dressed up a bit. For example, the ’70s cop shows off mustaches and sunglasses from the hilarious “Sabotage” video. But generally, the Beastie Goys just dress up with some hip-hop flair for the stage rather than, say, 1986 cosplay.
One of the best-rehearsed songs in the Beastie Goys’ 18-song set is “Rhymin & Stealin,” famous for its John Bonham breakbeat. “Shake Your Rump” is also a party starter. Seasoned Beasties fans will enjoy deeper cuts like “High Plains Drifter” with its deft vocal interplay. And, of course, revelers go crazy for hits like “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” The band are working on a live version of electro-rap gem Intergalactic. But as Woods says, “Those are mountains to climb.” Lately, Beastie Goys have thrown a few non-Beastie Boys rap classics into the mix, too. For example, they cover Cypress Hill’s “I Want To Get High” and OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean.”
Tribute bands have been around for decades. One of the earliest was Los Angeles’ Cold Gin, which emulated Kiss’ makeup and costume hard-rock glitz of the 1970s. Cold Gin’s version of Kiss guitarist Ace Frehley was played by Tommy Thayer, who was in the major label band Black N’ Blue, whose recordings were produced by Kiss bassist Gene Simmons. Years later, after Cold Gin, Thayer joined the real Kiss on guitar. He’s currently touring the world with Kiss, wearing Frehley’s Spaceman makeup on stage and duplicating classic Ace solos.
Often the most compelling tribute acts are for artists who are no longer around. Michael Jackson, Led Zeppelin and Prince Tributes have been doing good business for years. Guns N’ Roses tributes have been a hot thing for a while. But once the real GN’R got back together, less so.
For Eason, one of the most rewarding things about being a Beastie Goy is seeing the music reach beyond the fans of the original band. “We’ve had a lot of younger people say, ‘I’ve never heard the Beastie Boys, but now I have them and I really like them.'”
Beastie Goys will be performing at the Salty Nut Brewery, 2404 Clinton Ave, on July 23 from 9:30 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. W.$5. The show is an afterparty for the 11th anniversary weekend of Epic comedy hour, the recurring Huntsville comedy produced, hosted and stand-up by Scott Eason of the Beastie Goys. The EM weekend starts on July 21 at 7:30 p.m. with High Voltage Comedy feat. Andy Sandford, at The Electric Belle at Ofenhaus, address 3414 Governors Drive SW $10. July 22, Epic Comedy Hour, 8 p.m. at the Studio Theater at Lowe Mill, 2211 Seminole Drive. $8. Then “You Look Like: A Comedy Roast Battle” July 23, 7 p.m., The Peter Cat, 1518 McKinley Ave. $5. You can purchase a weekend pass to all of these events for over $22 eventbrite.com. More at facebook.com/thebeastiegoys and facebook.com/EpicComedyHour.