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Every cover band requires a specific skill set. For example, a Frank Zappa cover band needs extreme musical dexterity, a KISS cover band needs to be proficient in the art of face painting, a Ramones cover band needs to know, like, three chords, and a Nirvana cover bands needs a collection of old flannel shirts (and maybe some anti-depressants).
But to really pull off a Beastie Boys cover band, you need the skillful flow of a seasoned MC, the musicianship to pull off the instrumentals and the adolescent energy of a hopped-up Brooklyn teenager. You also need to be a massive fan. Basically, you need to be Kris Kostoff.
When Kostoff – known locally as a virtuoso improvisational jazz guitar player with his Kris Kostoff Jazz Trio, and Compound, his hip-hop and jazz fusion group – decided to form the Beastie Boys tribute act Brass Monkeys, he knew he’d have to fully commit to represent the group properly.
“I’ve watched so many interviews,” Kostoff says, who assumes the Ad-Rock role in the Brass Monkeys. “I’ve got it so I can speak like [Ad-Rock]. Everybody knows I’m known for dropping science.”
The line from the Beastie Boys’ classic “Root Down” is delivered so spot-on that for a moment I’m about to ask what it was like working with Rick Rubin or about the origins of the punk-influenced “Egg Raid on Mojo.”
Kostoff and his bandmates (Domenic Sciortino as MCA, Kirby Sybert as Mike D and Shawn Beck handling DJ and keyboard duties) may identify with the party vibe of the Beasties, but that doesn’t mean they took a casual approach to the project.
“We put a lot of time into it,” says Kostoff. “I look at it in the same type of way that a classical orchestra will play Mozart or the Fab Faux [the Beatles cover band] will try to replicate [the Beatles’ music] exactly. We’re not trying to take the Beasties tunes and make them our own. It’s nothing like that. We’re trying to replicate them as they were.”
That may have been the biggest challenge for Kostoff. As a trained jazz guitarist proficient in the art of improvisation, he found himself struggling to maintain Ad-Rock’s simple guitar grooves without adding his own embellishments.
The infectious Beastie Boys grooves might be made up of fairly simple rock and funk chords, but Kostoff is quick to cite them as perhaps one of the most innovative bands of the 20th century.
“To me, they are musical geniuses,” extols Kostoff. “You can talk Mozart, you can talk Frank Zappa, the Beatles, Stravinsky, Prince, Miles Davis. But I would put the Beasties in there with all those guys. What they did changed music.”
Fans can expect 24 high-energy Beastie Boys covers arranged into four sets (complete with costume changes), spanning the group’s entire career.
“I gotta check with Kimon [owner of The Depot] and see if he’s cool with us spraying cans of beer on the audience during the old school set. If we could get the cages with the girls, that would be perfect,” fantasizes Kostoff. “And the big giant inflatable penises that they had on the stage.”