POP MUSIC REVIEW : BEASTIE BOYS BAPTISM

Who'd have thought that rock's next great step forward would basically amount to a beer bust?

The Beastie Boys, wielding cans of Bud instead of guitars, turned the Hollywood Palladium stage into a lake of lager Saturday night, spouting, spraying and spilling their suds in a sticky but cleansing baptism of brew.

These "Animal House" antics are at the essence of the three bratty rappers from New York, but there was more to it than that at the Palladium show, where the performance itself wasn't as remarkable as the overall atmosphere and the intensity of the response from a strikingly diverse audience.

While not a culture-busting event like the Sex Pistols' punk-spawning American tour a decade ago, the show definitely marked a new mutation, or a turn of the corner. It confirmed rap's adoption as the teen-ager's weapon of choice in the perpetual struggle with authority figures. Finishing with a flourish the pop breakthrough by their mentors Run-D.M.C., the Beastie Boys have yanked rebellion from its heavy-metal and punk ghettos and returned it to the mainstream.

In doing so, the evening--given added drama by a mini-set from Run-D.M.C.--joined the ranks of memorable Palladium shows (Bowie, the Clash, et al.) that signaled a social shift, not just another night of music.

The Beasties keynote anthem "(You Gotta) Fight for the Right (to Party)" isn't far removed from many a heavy-metal sentiment. And like metal, the rap of Mike D, King Ad-Rock and MCA is deliberately crude, rude and obnoxious.

There's a kinship with punk too: Rap is simple, it relies on attitude and it gives you the sense that anybody can do it--the show seemed to bring out the performer in a lot of the fans, who rapped along word-for-word as they gestured like pros with imaginary microphones.

What they Beasties don't supply is the threat of the key punk bands. Of course, no key punk band had an album go to No. 1 in America, as the Beasties' debut "Licensed to Ill" is about to do.

Crucially, the Beasties have made this breakthrough without compromising or sanitizing their music, and it's tempting to view their success as an emphatic rebuttal to forces of censorship like the Parent's Music Resource Center. (There's an idea for inevitable first movie: "The Beastie Boys Go to Washington").

For all the abrasiveness and swagger in the image--and despite a reputation for trouble that led officials to cancel a Beasties show at UC San Diego--they turned out to be regular guys on stage. How scared can you be of a band that leads the audience in a chorus of "Happy Birthday" for one of the singers?

And early in the set, MCA specifically warned against the kind of violence that marred last summer's Run-D.M.C. show in Long Beach. "If any of that happens again, none of us are ever coming back (to play) here . . . We're not on a violence trip."

The performance itself was pretty basic, with nonstop action and aggression making up for the sameness of their sing-song rapping. With high-volume backing supplied by a deejay atop the Bud cans, and visual support from a woman dancing in a big bird cage, the Beasties hunched and stalked and slid and carried off their 40 minutes pretty well.

Then Run-D.M.C. finally gave L.A. the performance they weren't able to last summer, after gang violence stopped their Long Beach show and city officials barred them from the Street Scene festival. It was almost as if they'd been smuggled in as they took over and delivered a tight, on-the-beat, hammering vocal attack that should give the Beasties something to shoot for in terms of technique.

L.A.'s Fishbone set the stage for the Beasties with a sometimes stirring, sometimes contrived set of its hurtling punk-funk-rap-rock grab-bag. The show opened with a short set by fellow New York Murphy's Law, which appears to be following the Beastie blueprint of hardcore-to-rap. Its main drawback was a sexism that, unlike the Beasties' milder form, betrayed a fear and loathing that virtually shut females out of its audience.

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