Robert Lund - Man About Town
Timeless(?) Time Travel with
This year, I've been writing this column closer to the last minute, and missing some months, as life has afforded me less time to go out about town. In July I attended a show that got me excited, and I was planning this column for weeks, only to get to the keyboard now, good old term-paper style.
As some of you may have picked up, my musical life in the 60's went straight from Doo-wop to Bach (with some Beatles, Stones, and Doors thrown in), so I missed an awful lot of what went during my youth. As my love and admiration for the MC5 has grown through the years, I've always wished I could've seen them live. So I wasn't gonna miss the DKT/MC5 show July 29th at Northsix in Williamsburg. (Including the initials of Davis-Kramer-Thompson in the new band name acknowledges the missing two, and works better than renaming them the MC3.)
The tough job of opening for these legends was given to Chicago-based Suffrajett, fronted by Simi, a star of early BITCH shows at Don Hill's, and they lived up to the task well, their powerful energy engaging the crowd despite their anticipation of the main event.
This anticipation intensified as the crew prepared for DKT/MC5, and the capacity crowd pressed tightly against the stage, erupting into wild cheers when the band appeared. Michael Davis (bass), Wayne Kramer (guitar), and Dennis Thompson (drums) were obviously thrilled to be playing together again after all these years, and guitarist Gilby Clarke (Guns 'N' Roses) rounded out their sound well. The first set consisted of the entire Kick Out The Jams album (in order!), and Wayne sang lead on the first song (only), Ramblin Rose. Davis and Thompson looked more or less their age, but Wayne sprung about the stage, all dressed in white, with the gleeful exuberance and spontaneity of a young teen. As Wayne writes in one website report, "You can't hold on to joy. You just grab a kiss as it passes by." His micro-buzz hair was a cool surprise too, as I had just shaved my head a few days earlier after some 35 years of flaunting my "freak flag."
Mark Arm (Mudhoney) then joined them to deliver a great rendition of Kick Out The Jams and other tracks. A number of songs were enhanced by a horn section consisting of Uptown Horns members Crispen Cioe and Larry Etkin, and guest vocalist Lisa Kekaula (BellRays, Basement Jaxx) was perfect on Borderline.
The set closed out with Starship, the song that "takes you out into space" with its wild improvisations and tone colors. It occurred to me that throughout the years, the MC5 sound has been recognized as such a pioneering street rock sound, influencing many band in the times to come; but rock genres weren't so well-defined back in 1969, and music like this was a blend of garage rock and the hippie-trippy sound of the late 60s. I got a grin of whimsical nostalgia during Starship - you could almost taste the hash.
One of my punk rocker buddies complained later during the intermission, "I like when they play the hard rock tunes, but they oughtta skip that trippy shit like Starship - that got to be too much." No, this isn't a show of those parts of the MC5 repertory that influenced the punk music you like, this is the MC5 in its entirety, who they were and are, a whole package, a slice of that time transported to the present. I might not have been a bona fide hippie, but there was an air about the 1960s that the song captured for me. Much of the sensibility of the 60s has come to appear naïve over time, but it was a unique time, that can be looked back on as a kind of societal childhood. I mean, included with the original Jams album was John Sinclair's WHITE PANTHER MANIFESTO which, besides endorsing the Black Panther Party's 10-Point Program, demanded such things as "Free exchange of energy and materials," "Free food, clothes, housing, dope, music, bodies, medical care - everything free for everybody," "Free all prisoners everywhere - they are our brothers," and a number of other utopian demands. Never mind how all this free stuff was to be provided, it had an ideal ring to it (especially through a drug haze). That was then, this is now, and you hear a whole lot less of that kind of rhetoric today (especially since the implosion of the Communist systems all over the world). But I can still look back with a certain affection on the passion with which the basic wrongs of society were being challenged.
We were blessed with more MC5 hits in the second set, sung mostly by Mark Arm. But The Dictators' Handsome Dick Manitoba surpassed my expectations with his performances of Call Me Animal, High School, and The American Ruse. ("Dick f**king rules! He is the King Of New York!" writes Dennis Thompson in his Machine Gun Diary). But I finally encountered a show-stopper, for me. Wayne introduced a song by saying "Y'know, back when we first sang this song, there was an illicit war going on in Viet Nam, and now that there's another illicit war going on, we'd like to sing..." Now I'd been enduring some pain throughout the concert (yeah, holding in my hernia), but I had to conclude that it was no longer worth suffering to hear this stuff. I mean, I can have discussions with rational people about different approaches to dealing with the avowed jihad declared by certain people, but when any comparisons to the Viet Nam travesty are made, I tune out. I took part in many anti-war demonstrations during the Viet Nam years (and would do so today), but I maintain that these are different times, and Wayne lost me as he would have if he'd started reading the White Panther Manifesto to address today's world. It was still a fantastic experience to hear all the tunes I did, despite having to switch the dial when I did.
Check out www.dkt-mc5.com for members' journals and reports, and letters explaing their position regarding the documentary MC5: A True Testimonial. Kramer participated in the production of this film from the start with the understanding that Future/Now Films would let him control how the band's music was used in the movie and release an official companion CD on his indie label, MuscleTone, but the filmmakers apparently reneged on their verbal agreement, so the film hasn't been released. More on that at Chicago Reader.