Democracy Dies in Darkness

Music | Review

The proto-punk blasts of the MC5 retain their power as MC50 at 9:30 Club

By Mark Jenkins

September 12, 2018 at 12:08 PM

The MC5’s Wayne Kramer, who teamed with members of Fugazi, Soundgarden and Faith No More to perform as MC50, at 9:30 Club on Tuesday. (Jenny Risher/)

A rock band’s chemistry depends on not only its members but also its times. For MC50, the edition of the MC5 that played Tuesday at the 9:30 Club, nearly all of that is gone. Of the original musicians, three are deceased and only guitarist Wayne Kramer is still active. And 2018 is not much like 1968, even if Kramer did redirect the group’s political fervor toward the current inhabitant of the White House. Yet this golden-anniversary bash supplied nearly all the punch of the MC5’s once-notorious debut album, “Kick Out the Jams,” which was recorded live in Detroit in October 1968.

The 70-year-old Kramer prowled the stage with the intensity of a teenager, slinking like Chuck Berry and windmilling like Pete Townshend. Towering singer Marcus Durant, at 50 the youngster of the lineup, wailed on harmonica and slithered his hips. Durant (formerly of Zen Guerrilla) and Kramer were joined by Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and Faith No More bassist Billy Gould. These five were tighter than just about any ’60s rock outfit.

The MC5 began in 1964 and disbanded in 1972, after releasing three very different albums. The 9:30 show opened with a full account of “Kick Out the Jams,” a wild synthesis of garage-rock, free jazz (especially Sun Ra’s spacey explorations) and late-’60s youth politics. The 12-letter profanity that got the record widely banned in 1969 is still unprintable in a family newspaper but didn’t bite when uttered — more than once — during the show.

More stinging were Durant’s tenor, a fine substitute for the late Rob Tyner’s, and Kramer and Thayil’s trebly interplay.

The rest of the 75-minute show consisted of material from the band’s other albums, “Back in the U.S.A.” and “High Time,” plus its 1966 single, a cover of Them’s “I Can Only Give You Everything.”

In 1970, the tidier, pithier “Back in the U.S.A.” seemed a great leap backward. Yet its reworking of good-old-rock-and-roll, supercharged and updated with protest lyrics, provided a template for what would soon be called “punk rock.” The live renditions of such songs as “The American Ruse” were bluesier and less streamlined than their recorded versions. But that made them blend better into the set, much as lines like “America in terminal stasis/The air’s so thick it’s like drowning in molasses” fit the times.

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Music | Review

The proto-punk blasts of the MC5 retain their power as MC50 at 9:30 Club

By Mark Jenkins

September 12, 2018 at 12:08 PM

The MC5’s Wayne Kramer, who teamed with members of Fugazi, Soundgarden and Faith No More to perform as MC50, at 9:30 Club on Tuesday. (Jenny Risher/)

A rock band’s chemistry depends on not only its members but also its times. For MC50, the edition of the MC5 that played Tuesday at the 9:30 Club, nearly all of that is gone. Of the original musicians, three are deceased and only guitarist Wayne Kramer is still active. And 2018 is not much like 1968, even if Kramer did redirect the group’s political fervor toward the current inhabitant of the White House. Yet this golden-anniversary bash supplied nearly all the punch of the MC5’s once-notorious debut album, “Kick Out the Jams,” which was recorded live in Detroit in October 1968.

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