Dino Carrillo was chasing a record deal for his hip-hop group back in the 1990s, but says he kept hearing the same refrain: “You guys sound too much like the Beastie Boys.”
But now Carrillo, 37, and his crew hope to hear as many Beastie Boys comparisons as possible. Carrillo, a.k.a. D-Rock, assumes the role of Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz when he’s on the microphone performing in Southern California’s Pollywog Crew, a Beastie Boys tribute group.
These three MCs (Carrillo, Jay “MCJ” Lepito and Jeff “Jeff D” Davis) – and one DJ (Luis “LuMan” Robles) – are set to take the stage Saturday night at Marilyn’s on K. The bill also features the group Revolver, paying homage to Rage Against the Machine, and the cover band Thunder Cover.
Close your eyes and those memories of baggy Ben Davis pants, Caesar haircuts and the Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine sharing the bill at the 1996 Tibetan Freedom Concert just might come flooding back. Tribute bands are now the best way to hear Beastie Boys tunes live. The group has faced an uncertain future since the 2012 death of Adam “MCA” Yauch, a key voice behind such Beastie Boys classics as “Pass the Mic” and “So What’cha Want.”
“When Adam Yauch passed away, we were all kind of in shock,” said Carrillo by phone from Los Angeles. “We felt the realization that we could no longer see the Beastie Boys live, let alone put out records. We wanted to keep the music alive.”
Pollywog Crew formed in 2012 and takes its name from “Pollywog Stew,” the 1982 EP that marked the Beastie Boys’ first recording. But unlike the scrappy hard-core punk from those formative Beastie Boys songs, Pollywog Crew focuses on the band’s time-honored hip-hop output from the 1990s, with a few frat-boy classics from 1986’s “License to Ill” thrown in the mix as well.
Pollywog Crew specializes in covers of such tracks as “Root Down,” “Intergalactic,” “Sure Shot” and other party rockers from the original days of Lollapalooza. The 1990s were an especially fruitful time for the Beastie Boys, which fused its rapping with live instrumentation and pop-culture-obsessed wordplay through the albums “Check Your Head” and “Ill Communication.”
Pollywog Crew adds to a growing list of Beastie Boys tribute acts, including Chicago’s She’s Crafty – an all-female group – and Rhymin N Stealin from Dallas. After all, cover bands aren’t just limited to classic rock tributes, like odes to Journey or the Beatles. Some acts best associated with the 1990s are also getting the cover band treatment, including the Weezer tribute In the Garage and Nevermind: The Touring Nirvana Tribute.
Carrillo makes it clear that he wants Pollywog Crew to capture the Beastie Boys in the purist way.
“There’s several groups in the country doing Beastie Boys tributes, but we don’t want to be the tongue-in-cheek, slapstick Beastie Boys,” said Carrillo. “There’s a lot of good stuff that came from other albums and wanted to represented the more polished version of Beastie Boys. ‘Paul’s Boutique’ (from 1989) didn’t get its due credit at the time.”
Pollywog Crew has enjoyed a few perks of being a Beastie Boys cover band. The group performed at a photography exhibition for Sunny Bak, who captured some of the Beastie Boys’ classic images during the 1980s and shot the gatefold sleeve for 1986’s “Licensed to Ill” album.
Carrillo also got to meet Horovitz after a show where the Beastie Boys’ co-founder was playing bass for cabaret singer Bridget Everett. “It was kind of surreal,” Carrillo said. “He was a nice guy.”
Though he’ll always remain a die-hard Beastie Boys fan, Carrillo (who works a day job in Web development) has other career ambitions outside of being a cover band. Pollywog Crew is also developing a batch of original material that’s in the funky spirit of its heroes. At some point the group may perform two sets in one show: one of original tunes and the other paying tribute to the Beastie Boys.
Until then, Pollywog Crew is adding more Beastie Boys songs to its set-list and rocking crowds around California and beyond. That is to say, no sleep ’til Sacramento.
“Everyone can sort of relate to the Beastie Boys,” said Carrillo. “It’s good times with a lot of energy.”