Even with two members dead, Detroit's '60s proto-punk legends really do rock the party like no-one else…
You’re probably familiar with [a]MC5[/a]’s biography. When you were putting your ill-fated garage rock band together back in that heady summer of 2002, they were probably third on your list of influences beneath The Clash and [a]Iggy & The Stooges[/a]. You might’ve caught ‘Kick Out The Jams’ on VH1 Classic while channel-surfing at 3am on a Tuesday night and really ‘dug’ frontman Rob Tyner’s white ’fro, guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith’s Motown-indebted riffs and the general pseudo-political White Panther rhetoric bullshit. Hell, you might even actually own one of their records.
But do you really know MC5? I mean, beyond the ‘Get Wasted And Party’ ethos adopted by so many average indie bands in their wake? After all, the Motor City Five were always about so much more than that. However antiquated it sounds now, they were about Social Revolution™, a worthy cause as alien to the bands that followed them – yes, we mean you, Class of ’02 – as learning a fourth chord. They were the greatest rock’n’roll story ever told, and their music was the most thrilling ever fashioned by the hand of man.
So when the three surviving members – now trading awkwardly as DKT/MC5 after Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer and Dennis Thompson’s initials – take the stage tonight, pot bellies sagging over their guitars, top buttons on their M&S casual shirts rebelliously undone and cartilage replacements where once young hips were, you can’t help but feel a little disappointed. Until they actually start playing, that is. Tyner and Smith – arguably the heart and soul of the MC5 – may no longer be with us, but by god, Kramer has still got moves. At one point he raises his guitar, cocks his eye, and machine-guns the whole of the front row. It’d be comical if it wasn’t so fucking cool. Then there’s the tunes: ‘Rocket Reducer No 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)’, ‘Shakin’ Street’, ‘Ramblin’ Rose’… not a bad legacy to hawk around, you’ll agree.
The punk rock karaoke element we were dreading actually becomes a surprise masterstroke. Mark Arm of Seattle grunge legends [a]Mudhoney[/a]
and the [a]Soledad Brothers[/a]’ Johnny Walker, tonight’s guest vocalists, leap around like eager teenagers in front of the bathroom mirror. There’s no studied cool, no detached aloofness, just boundless enthusiasm and shit-eating grins. ‘Kick Out The Jams’ is, predictably, the highlight. That three middle-aged men can provoke a room full of other middle-aged men to near-riot is testament to the song’s enduring power; indeed, it all becomes too much for The Man, who starts escorting lank-haired crusties from the premises for rolling crafty bifters.
So, do MC5 still matter? Of course not. We live in an age of Datsuns and Darknesses, where merest mention of being anti-establishment is enough to incite terminal migraines. No, MC5 exist to remind us of a time of naïve innocence and unashamed arrogance, when anything seemed possible in rock’n’roll. Do you really know MC5? You fucking do now.