Before there was Public Enemy or Rage Against The Machine, there was MC5. While other bands were singing about going to San Francisco with flowers in your hair and smiling on your brother, MC5 was providing the soundtrack for the riotous ’68 Democratic convention in Chicago. Punk before there was punk, Wayne Kramer and co. spit in the face of convention, and rock and roll was forever changed. Celebrating 50 years of kicking out the jams, thus sporting the name MC50, Kramer brought his all-star band to the Varsity Theater on Tuesday night to raise the roof.
First up were Detroit Cobras. Fronted by Rachel Nagy, this band was raw garage rock at its finest. The high energy band had a retro rock sound that clearly hit home with the crowd. They had great stage chemistry, at one point the bass player gave up his belt Nagy to prevent her pants from hitting the floor. After the set, she jumped into the audience to hang with the crowd for the rest of the night.
Around 9:30, the Varsity went dark and Wanyne Kramer ran out onto the stage with manic energy. Along with Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, Faith No More bassist Billy Gould, Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and Zen Guerrilla vocalist Marcus Durant, MC50 opened the show with “Ramblin’ Rose”, and proceeded to power through all 8 tracks from the 1969 classic “Kick Out The Jams”
Marcus Durant did an amazing job of channeling the late Rob Tyner, cool shades and hair included. But it was Wayne Kramer who clearly stole the show. Sporting an American flag strat, Kramer ran around the stage like a spider monkey on crack. With windmills that would make Pete Townshend jealous, it’s hard to believe this spinning, convulsing mad man is 70. I wish my cell phone had that much energy. But there was also a message with the madness, and Kramer repeatedly implored the crowd to get involved and vote motherfucker, vote!
The All-Star band really hit there stride later in the set. There was a certain energetic coarseness to the band that added character. Kim Thayil went all Kim Thayil during “Gotta Keep Movin’ “and he definitely was a compliment to Kramers’ loose, jangly solos. Bill Gould and Canty had the upper deck rattling during “Looking At You”
While most of the faces have changed, the MC 5 directive remains the same after 50 years: music can change the world.
Setlist: Ramblin’ Rose – Kick Out The Jams – Come Together – Motor City Burning – Rocket Reducer No. 62 – Borderline – I Want You Right Now – Starship – Tonight – High School – Gotta Keep Movin’ – Poison – I Can Give You Everything – Call Me Animal
Encore: Sister Anne – Let Me Try – Looking At You