The MC5 (Motor City 5) were a badass hippie band from Detroit, Michigan who played rebellious hard rock inspired by the Yippies at the riotous 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago that had the police cracking heads and tear gassing peaceful protesters. Two months after the brutal experience provided by Mayor Richard Daly the band recorded its debut album, Kick Out the Jams, at the Grande Ballroom in Detroit, Michigan on October 30 & 31. The raw intensity of their performance was captured and distributed to the masses as guerilla rock & roll. Their music was influenced by blues, jazz and rock as they mixed it with politics and formed a coalition with the “White Panther Party” through their manager, John Sinclair.
John Sinclair was their original manager until he was busted for giving two marijuana joints to undercover agents and was sentenced to ten years in Federal prison, where he served over two, until John Lennon and Stevie Wonder among others appeared at a release John Sinclair benefit concert in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 1971. MC5 Lead guitarist and singer, brother Wayne Kramer, who is one of only two surviving members, along with drummer Dennis Thompson, who only appeared at a few dates, but not in Portland, Oregon at the Roseland Theater on Monday night October 15, 2018.
Kramer put together the MC50 to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of recording the MC5’s live debut album. That night Thompson was replaced by “Fugazi” drummer Brendan Canty, alongside bass player Billy Gould from “Faith No More,” who replaced the late Michael Davis. The rest of the all-star band was comprised of 6’7” front man Marcus Durant from “Zen Guerilla” who replaced the late Rob Tyner and “Soundgarden” guitarist, Kim Thayil replacing the late Fred “Sonic” Smith.
The show began at 8:00 PM and had two opening acts. The first was a local psychedelic hard rock band named “Holy Grove” with multi colored lights flashing to an ear throbbing performance. The second band was “Starcrawler from L.A. who provided an intense hard rock performance fronted by lead singer, Arrow de Wilde. At 9:45 PM the MC50 took the stage and opened with Kramer singing “Ramblin’ Rose,” the opening song on Kick Out the Jams. Durant’s afro topped head bobbed up and down as his lanky frame animatedly danced center stage, reminiscent of original lead singer Rob Tyner. Song #2 was the title song off the live debut album, which became a classic line in the history of rock and roll. The band dove into a hard rocking intense performance as the song began with “Kick out the jams mother fuckers.” When asked what the crowd could expect at an MC50 concert, Kramer explained, “this band will rip your head off. It’s real raw, sweaty, total energy rock and roll, like a bunch of 40 to 70 year old punks on a meth power trip.”
Kramer’s autobiography, “The Hard Stuff: Dope, Crime, the MC5 and My Life of Impossibilities,” was published in 2018 by Da Capo Press and recounted his tumultuous history over the past fifty years. The original five members only recorded three albums in their meteoric career, before they crashed and burned in 1972. The MC5 were considered one of the most dangerous American bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s, earning them FBI surveillance, under J Edgar Hoover, because they mixed politics with rock & roll. After serving time in a Federal prison Kramer released ten solo albums and “Rolling Stone” listed him “as one of the top 100 guitarists of all time.
The band played all eight songs off the debut album in nearly the order of the album. The lyrics of “Rocket Reducer No 62” best encapsulated their attitude; “After some good tokes and a six pack, We can sock ‘em out for you till you’re flat on your back.” The high energy performance continued as the band began playing selections from the MC5’s two studio albums. Kramer strutted around the stage brandishing his raised American flag guitar as he played with the same intensity that this writer saw fifty years ago.
Arrow de Wilde from “Starcrawler” came on stage for “High School” from 1970’s Back In the USA as she grabbed the microphone and belted out “High School Ra Ra Ra” in unison with Durant as Kramer and Thayil played off each other. Kramer changed to an acoustic guitar, but before the band began “Shakin’ Street,” from the same album, Kramer named the three deceased members and dedicated the song to them. “Future/Now” from1971’s High Time was a driving rhythm with Canty and Gould setting the pace as Kramer and Thayil played ethereal guitars.
The band began “I Can Only Give You Everything,” a “Them” cover that was a 45 RPM single that the MC5 released in 1966. Kramer strutted from one end of the stage to the other as Durant danced dipping his head to his knees. Kramer did some windmills facing Thayil who stood with feet spread apart and played with the same intensity. “Call Me Animal” from High Time was the final song of the set and was played with the same intensity that the name conjures up, “call me animal, that’s my name, call me animal, I’m not ashamed.”
The crowd brought the band back out for an encore, when Mike Skill from the Romantic’s, another Detroit band, joined them on guitar and vocals. They dove into “Sister Anne” from High Time, for a total guitar assault as Kramer, Skill and Thayil played full speed ahead. After Skill left the stage the band did two more cuts off Back In the USA, “Let Me Try” and “Looking At You.” Between songs Kramer went on a political rant which he concluded by encouraging everyone to vote as he began strumming his guitar, with Durant singing “I saw into the dancing crowd, felt like screaming out loud. Looking at you…”
Review by Bob Gersztyn