The MC5 anniversary tour stop at Grand Rapids’ 20 Monroe Live drew a curiously, half-full house Saturday but the band still proved its influential, rock ‘n’ roll mettle.
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The assertion that great songs transcend their composers and players is being put to the test with the current MC50 tour.
To celebrate the five-decade anniversary of “Kick Out the Jams,” Detroiter and original MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer assembled an all-star band certainly worthy of an all-time great record: Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil, Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, Faith No More bassist Billy Gould and Zen Guerilla singer Marcus Durant.
The lineup looks extraordinary on paper. And certainly, Saturday night at 20 Monroe Live, the Kramer/Thayil interplay and Gould and Canty carved the grooves with an aggressive rhythmic attack.
But the show proved that classic cuts like “Ramblin’ Rose” and “Kick Out the Jams” still retain their potency, if not as full-blown political rabble-rousers, but at least as historically significant proto-punk documents chronicling a crucial evolutionary point in rock music.
Granted, the quintet opened the set with those two tracks, and while they’re a delight to experience in a live setting – few three-chord punk blasts are as eternal as “Kick Out the Jams” – it’s curious why Kramer frontloaded the set with the big ones, and didn’t save them for when the group had warmed up.
SMALL CROWD, BIG HAIRY RIFFS
It wasn’t until the evening’s third number, “Come Together,” that this version of the MC5 hit its stride. Kramer’s wild, loose solos sizzled and sparked, and Canty kept the beat with power and precision. Durant was something of a revelation, a hulking presence with big, rangy pipes. Inexplicably, Thayil’s guitar struggled to punch through the mix, but if anything, it provided a platform for Kramer’s diverse and inspired playing. (Has he ever truly received his due as a guitarist?)Midway through the set, Kramer led the group through goofy free-jazz, punctuated with Durant bleating on a clarinet, during a jam on “Starship.” Such impenetrable experimentation was followed by stuff more significantly direct: “I Can Only Give You Everything,” the Them cover with a steady locomotive chug that was the MC5’s first single in 1966, and the two-and-a-half-minute burner “High School.”
The big, hairy riff of “Call Me Animal” and rave-up set-closer “Looking at You” were also highlights.
The show drew a few hundred people in a less-than-half-full 20 Monroe – curiously small numbers, perhaps, for a landmark Michigan act that made international waves, with the Detroit Cobras opening the evening.
Yet the few enthusiastic brothers and sisters in attendance bore witness to the progenitors of Detroit rock. Saturday night, the MC5 were substantive, passionate and raw, frayed around the edges, imperfect but energetic, and most importantly, still significant.
PHOTO GALLERY: MC50, Detroit Cobras at 20 Monroe Live
Photos by Anthony Norkus
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