SILVERLAKE, Calif. — For the first time since New Year's Eve 1972,
singer/guitarist Wayne Kramer, a founding member of the MC5, played a full set
of that storied, Detroit proto-punk band's songs at Spaceland on Sunday night.
The occasion was a benefit for former MC5 manager John Sinclair and his family,
whose New Orleans home recently was severely damaged in a fire.
"The old war horse has held up pretty well," Kramer said after the show, which
raised $2,300 and featured 10 performances by spoken-word artists, bands and
The 51-year-old guitarist started organizing the benefit after hearing about
Sinclair's situation three weeks ago. The two have remained close friends,
though Sinclair stopped managing the MC5 in 1969. Sinclair has since made a
career as a spoken-word artist, radio DJ, poet and journalist.
"The only thing a friend does is help a friend out when he's having trouble,"
Kramer said. "This is just right action; we're just doing what we should do."
During the headlining performance of MC5 songs, Kramer was backed by Los Angeles
punk-revivalists the Streetwalkin' Cheetahs, whose leader, Frank Meyer, helped
him bring back the MC5's incendiary twin-guitar attack and occasionally took
over lead vocals.
For "Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa," Kramer divided the crowd into three sections, giving
them each parts to sing in a round. "It's like 'Row, Row, Row Your Boat,' only a
little more sophisticated," he said.
The set culminated with hard-hitting renditions of "Poison" and "Black to Comm"
excerpt), with Kramer dedicating the latter to his deceased MC5
bandmates, guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith and vocalist Rob Tyner. "Back in the MC5
days, we used to end our shows with this song," he told the crowd. "We're going
to play it ... for all the people we lost along the way." Kramer slipped to the
side to play keyboards on the tune, while Meyer, dripping with sweat, thrashed
around on the mic.
The Streetwalkin' Cheetahs have previously backed Kramer in his solo shows on
the MC5 staple "Kick Out the Jams" (
excerpt). "Getting to do a whole set of this stuff is just
unbelievable," Meyer said before the show. "For us, it's like a dream come true.
We came together because of our love for that band and that kind of music."
The Cheetahs performed their own set earlier Sunday night, which included a
cover of the Stooges' "Fun House."
Other artists on the bill were the New York Dolls cover band the New York Dolts,
rock bands the Bellrays and B-Movie Rats, and singer/songwriter Mike Younger,
who was a homeless street musician when Sinclair put him on his radio show in
1995. "I think we're all kind of connected through that spirit of what we were
trying to do in the MC5 and what John Sinclair represents," Kramer said of the
lineup. "You can connect the dots in the influence of the MC5 up through bands
today. All these bands tonight — I like to think of these people as sons
and daughters of the 5."
Formed in Michigan in 1965, the MC5 gained notoriety as the house organ of the
band of radicals known as the White Panther Party, which Sinclair founded. The
bandmembers wore American flags and shouted obscenity-laden revolutionary
slogans. The recording of the band's live performance in Chicago during the
riot-plagued 1968 Democratic Convention became its groundbreaking 1969 debut,
Kick Out the Jams.
Kramer called Sinclair's influence on him and his former band "massive."
"He helped explain and articulate things that I only knew on a gut level, that I
only knew in my anger," he said. "John's a little bit older than me and a little
bit better educated than me, and at that young point in my life, it was the
perfect relationship, and it's still a perfect relationship, though today it's
more like brothers."
Sinclair penned the insurgent liner notes for Kick Out the Jams, and he
managed the group until he went to jail for marijuana possession in 1969. After
his release, he resumed writing and eventually moved to New Orleans. He has
since recorded several spoken-word albums with his group the Blues Scholars,
written poetry and music criticism and hosted his own radio show on WWOZ-FM.
Giving Something Back
Sunday's show began with Mark Groubert performing with his group Lower Companions, featuring Kramer on keyboards and Doug Lund on drums. Before they began, Groubert lightened the mood by listing products that Sinclair and his family need. They included 200 boxes of Rice-A-Roni, 17-1/2 yards of rolling paper, a copy of the Doors' "Light My Fire," uncooked chicken and back issues of Playboy magazine from 1972 to 1974.
Younger said he jumped at the opportunity to play the benefit after catching up
with Sinclair in New Orleans two weeks ago. "He put me on air when I was totally
down and out, he took a chance on me, and that day was very fateful, because I
got my break in the music business through him," the singer/guitarist said after
his performance, which included songs from his debut, Somethin' in the
Air (1999). "It's nice to play a show where I can give something back."
A previous benefit concert for Sinclair featuring Michelle Shocked, the
Radiators and the Wild Magnolias was held in New Orleans. On Saturday, a benefit
will be held at Arlene Grocery in New York, featuring Eric's in Oregon, the
Scoldees, Mercy Side, the Blue Mockingbirds and Danny White. Joan Jett and
former Ramones frontman Joey Ramone also may turn up. The benefit will focus on
raising money to transfer art, recordings and other memorabilia from Sinclair's
home to the University of Michigan.
Donations to Sinclair and his family can be sent to: Sinclair Fire Fund, Account No. 0231-805-9, c/o Liberty Bank & Trust, 1950 St. Bernard Ave., New Orleans, La. 70116. Attn: Lelia Mackey, Asst. Branch Manager.