Staff Editor on
There are endless speculations regarding the genesis of punk rock, but one could make the argument that the MC5 were the first to kick the tires.
While all five couldn’t quite make the gig (three have since shuffled off this mortal coil), a packed Teragram Ballroom saw a very reasonable facsimile thereof on Tuesday night.
Fronted by sole original member and noted guitar-slinger (and activist) Wayne Kramer, the band he assembled certainly captured the animalistic spirit of the original.
Rebranded and touring as the MC50 (celebrating the 50th anniversary of their seminal release “Kick Out the Jams”), Kramer was joined onstage by an All-Star crew featuring Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil on guitar, Fugazi’s Brendan Canty on drums, Faith No More’s Billy Gould on bass and Zen Guerilla’s Marcus Durant on vocals.
Clad in red and white amid a sea of black, Kramer, 71, tore into the opening number “Rambling Rose” with vigor, slashing away at his trademark distress signal Strat. From there they wasted no time addressing the classics. The opening pronouncement of “Kick Out the Jams, Motherfucker” sent the crowd into a frenzy.
“Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)” and “Motor City is Burning” were other highlights in a 75-minute set that saw them skillfully skip across punk, metal, R&B, blues and even a bit of free jazz.
Ever the gentleman, Thayil was content to let Kramer take most of the leads, making Thayil perhaps the most overqualified rhythm guitarist in music history. The rhythm section of Gould and Canty were all groove, while Durant did a brilliant job replicating the late Rob Tyner, going so far as to channel his fro.
Birthed in Detroit in 1964, the band went through various struggles and incarnations before finally gaining traction in the late ’60s. In many ways Michigan was the epicenter of the music industry back then, with the legendary Motown R&B acts (Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross & the Supremes, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles) encircled by a host of groundbreaking rock acts like Alice Cooper, Grand Funk Railroad, the Amboy Dukes (pre-Ted Nugent), Mitch Ryder, Bob Seger and a hyperactive minister’s son named James Osterberg (Iggy Pop) and his band, the Stooges.
But what set the MC5 apart from their brethren was their unabashed support for radical left-wing politics. Heavily influenced by Marxism and the Black Panthers, they were deeply involved with John Sinclair’s White Panther movement, along with a group of New York City troublemakers known as “Up Against the Wall Motherfuckers.”
There are no shortage of legacy acts plundering their history for the almighty dollar, but Kramer is doing it in sublime fashion. Many aged wonders pander to their audiences, filling in the holes with session pros while going through the motions, playing casinos and state fairs.
Kramer is doing the MC5 justice, much in the way of Ricky Warwick’s Thin Lizzy reboot, “Black Star Riders,” or Rage Against the Machine’s revamped “Prophets of Rage.”
Purists and cynics may be tempted to turn up their noses, but in an era where three-fifths of the original Rolling Stones can sell out the Rose Bowl, perhaps we should take their lead and appreciate our legends while they are still among us.