With war looming on the horizon and the economy in a state of disrepair, the time is ripe for members of the MC5 to resurface and kick out the jams.
On Thursday, what's left of the insurrectionary '60s Detroit garage band got together at London's 100 Club for a long overdue concert reunion. It was the first time guitarist Wayne Kramer, bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson had taken the stage together since a 1991 tribute show following the death of vocalist Rob Tyner.
"I think of it as a continuation, not a coming back," said Kramer, mounting the political pulpit. "The message is always the same. It's a message of justice over injustice, a message of self-determination and self-efficacy. We're all doing our part. Nobody wants this war, so we carry the message in some songs and we're trying to make the world a better place than we found it."
MC5 rose from the streets of Lincoln Park, Michigan, in 1964 and over the next seven years became a powerful voice of rebellion and revolution with such songs as "Kick Out the Jams," "American Ruse" and "Motor City Is Burning." Along with Detroit misanthropes the Stooges, the band laid the foundation for punk rock. In addition, the members incorporated the anti-war, anti-government ideologies of the White Panther Party, which was founded by their manager, John Sinclair. Their manifesto was to achieve a "total assault on the culture by any means necessary," including "rock and roll, dope, and f---ing in the streets."
During last week's show, there wasn't any visible lovemaking in the streets, but there was plenty of high-impact rock and roll, and a variety of guest vocalists filling Tyner's slot, including Hellacopters frontman Nicke Anderson (who performed on Kramer's 2002 album Adult World), the Damned's Dave Vanian, and Motörhead's Lemmy Kilmister.
"Lemmy said that without the MC5 there would have been no Motörhead," Kramer said. "That was very flattering."
MC5 were also joined by trumpeter Dr. Charles Moore on a pair of improvised tunes. Moore originally collaborated with the band on the 1971 album High Time.
"The idea was the pick up where we left off musically and continue to push this thing into the avant garde," Kramer said. "Like Sun Ra said, 'We came from nowhere to here, why can't we go somewhere to there?' "
Kramer knew the experience would be fun and nostalgic, but he was pleasantly surprised to see how well MC5's songs had held up over 30 years after they were written.
"I've played a lot of music since I was in the MC5, and it was interesting to revisit this material today, in the world we live [in] right now," he said. "We were pretty creative for a bunch of knuckleheads back in the day. A lot of the music was kind of sophisticated with a lot of key changes and modulations and things you don't hear in pop music now."
The band videotaped and recorded the London concert, and Kramer expects it will be available on CD, DVD and videocassette in the future. No additional shows have been scheduled, but Kramer suggested it might just be a matter of time before the band performs more dates. He also hinted that the MC5 might get back together in the studio and work on new material.
"I have to keep an open mind," he said. "I think we all have open minds. I know that Dennis and Michael are always looking to play and we have an investment in the MC5. But if I could predict the future, I'd be going out to the racetrack every day."
Kramer organized the 100 Club show after Levi's approached him to license some of the band's artwork for a limited-edition line of T-shirts. The offer inspired the guitarist to ask the jeans giant if it would promote a band reunion. The company acquiesced, and Kramer called up his former bandmates and started recruiting guest vocalists.
Considering how anti-authoritarian and political MC5 were in the '60s, some have frowned at the notion of the band buddying up to big business. Kramer said those folks miss the point of what it takes to be an agent provocateur.
"We're not guerillas up in the mountains with Fidel and Che [Guevara]. The MC5 have always believed in using whatever means we could to get our message across. When we said by any means necessary, we mean change the system from within as well as from without."