A sixth snub from the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t deterred the MC5 from doing what it does best, and naturally – eliminating jams, mother – well, you know.
The iconic band’s latest lineup made their live debut Thursday night at the El Club in their hometown of Detroit, not far from the Grande Ballroom where the MC5s recorded their historic debut album. Expel Jams. They are still fronted by guitarist Wayne Kramer, the only original member remaining in the lineup and one of two still alive.
That night, MC5 delivered 85 minutes of typically jagged hard rock, taking plenty of musical risks and taking no prisoners as they ripped through 16 songs. The MC5 sampled the band’s three original albums from 1969 to 1971, while previewing two songs from the upcoming Lifting heavy loads – the title track and “The American Ruse”.
“Some bands take two years between albums,” Kramer told the El Club crowd before the band performed “Heavy Lifting” on Thursday. “Some bands take five years between albums. We take 50.”
Kramer made no mention of Rock Hall, which has now had MC5 on its ballot six times. Earlier today he posted messages on social media thanking those who voted for the band, saying “all of you are true Rock & Roll fans”. Kramer told UCR that “it’ll be fine with me anyway” ahead of Wednesday’s announcement of this year’s inductees, while acknowledging a softening of his once dismissive views on induction.
“I’ve been through all the arguments and the cynicism and the criticism,” Kramer said, “and, look, if the MC5 is recognized for its contribution, I think that would be a good thing. There’s a lot of people who love the band and love what the band stands for. Having that appreciation confirmed wouldn’t be a bad thing – but we’ve been here before, so let’s see what happens.
Instead, the band focused on vindicating to El Club why Rock Hall’s honor is late. They were poignantly brought in by Ricky Derminer, the younger brother of the late MC5 frontman Rob Tyner. (Derminer introduced Kramer to Tyner nearly 60 years ago in Lincoln Park, Michigan) Meanwhile, drummer Winston A. Watson Jr. appeared in place of Stephen Perkins of Jane’s Addiction, who had to take time off of the two-week tour at the last minute for personal reasons.
They performed in front of a banner declaring “We Are All MC5”, covering much of the ground while mixing the proto-punk of “Looking at You” and “Call Me Animal” with the psychedelic fuzz of “Poison”, “Future /Now” and “Come Together” and the garage grandeur of “Rocket Reducer N. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)”. The band tackled their under-recognized pop chops with “Shakin’ Street” and “Baby Won’t Ya,” while new frontman Brad Brooks found an emotive spark in bluesy numbers like “Motor City is Burning” and “Let Me Try”. .”
Primed after three days of rehearsal, the new MC5 sounded tight but rough and rowdy in all the right places – especially on “Sister Anne”. It was one of many songs that showcased the power of Kramer’s guitar tandem and the all-rounder Steve Salas, who was a american idol musical director and has also worked with Mick Jagger, George Clinton, Justin Timberlake and others.
They had to stop and start “Tonight” again, with Kramer laughing as he asked the crowd to “forget what happened”. Elsewhere he remained the lead soloist, but Kramer and Salas still found plenty of places to rip him together, including the last part of “Looking at You”.
Kramer tells UCR that “they’re the best band yet,” having led the All-Star MC50 on tour in 2018-19. “We’re only at the beginning of cracking the code of what we can do, but it all seems to fit together very well. Rehearsals went wonderfully. I’m shocked at how well things sound good.”
Picking up MC5, Kramer said, “was really born out of the pandemic” and “a real pit of despair” he found himself in after four years of Donald Trump. He took his therapist’s advice to “do something creative” and began writing songs with Brooks. He also wrote with Alejandro Escovedo, Tom Morello, Kesha, Tim McIlrath of Rise Against and began recording material with producer Bob Ezrin, with whom he worked on Alice Cooper. Detroit Stories album.
“It all snowballed on its own,” Kramer said. “At some point, everyone is like, ‘Man, this could be an MC5 record.
He also felt it was the perfect time for MC5 to roll again amid a landscape plagued by political divisiveness, suffrage challenges, culture wars, and a myriad of other issues.
“We are going through such a dangerous time for our country that I’m going to have to pull out all the stops and use the strongest tools I have,” Kramer told UCR. “MC5 has always stood for action, commitment and principle. I think we are going to need all of this and more if our democracy is to survive. It was time to relaunch MC5 to deliver the necessary message for today.”
Kramer echoed those sentiments on Thursday night, warning the crowd that “these fascists mean business. They will take our democracy away from us, without our permission. So we need to vote like we’ve never voted before. We need to get on our feet.” and act like we have never acted before. I implore you to get to work, to intervene, to save this city, to save this country, to save this planet.
The MC5 has about 16 or 17 songs ready for Lifting heavy loadsaccording to Kramer, but he admits “we’ll have to cut that down. We’ll save a few for special releases, B-sides or something. I don’t want to hear anybody for more than 40, 45 minutes, maybe 50 minutes – mostly me. We’re about two-thirds through the process. We cut all the leads pretty quickly, and now we’re just refining things.
Original MC5 drummer Dennis Thompson has come out of semi-retirement to play on two tracks from the upcoming LP, and was due to join the band on Thursday for “Kick Out the Jams,” but was not introduced.
MC5 now has seven more stops booked through May 15, and Kramer hopes to return for more dates later in the year. In the meantime, he continues to work on film music for an adaptation of Arthur Miller’s short story. The performancewhile looking further down the road.
“I’m already thinking about what the next album will look like and touring possibilities if COVID continues to roll back,” Kramer said. “Maybe we could go back to being on the road regularly for a few months every year. I’d like to do that for a while.”
MC5, May 5, 2022 at the El Club in Detroit
“Baby Won’t Be You”
“Motor City is Burning”
“Shake the Street”
“Call Me Animal”
“No. 62 Rocket Reducer (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)”
“Let Me Try”
“The American Ruse”
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