Hello fellow rockers! Not a lot of preamble this time! Let’s get down to it, shall we?
This last Tuesday (Sept 25) I had the pleasure of seeing the mighty MC5 at the beautiful Turner Hall Ballroom in Milwaukee. Obviously, this wasn’t the original MC5, as 3/5ths of whom are no longer with us. This all-star band was led by founding member Wayne Kramer (I know what you’re thinking - all-star band? - this has the potential to really suck. Well stay tuned, faithful reader.) and featured none other than Kim Thayil (Soundgarden) on guitar, Billy Gould (Faith No More) on bass, Brendan Canty (Fugazi) on drums, and the real wild-card of the bunch, Marcus Durant (Zen Guerrilla) on vocals. Let me tell you, this is an all-star band that did not disappoint. More on that later….The reason of course was the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first MC5 album, Kick Out The Jams.
Opening the show was Milwaukee’s own Bleed, back together for the occasion. Bleed has been sorely missed in the Milwaukee music scene to these ears, so it was nice to see them together again. It’s probably been over 7 years since I have last seen them, but I know they have had sporadic reunions here and there. For those not in the know, Bleed are a three piece and play a raw form of garage rock and songs that sound like amped up 60’s tunes. Always a good time when they play out and they do not disappoint - the energy they bring to their performances is just insane.
Next up on the bill were garage-soul rockers Detroit Cobras. The Cobras have been around since the early 2000’s, and their primary modus operandi is to find obscure old soul tunes and transform them into garage rock nuggets. I would guess that 95% of their tunes are covers, but you would not recognize them for what they are, the songs are that transformed.
I have to admit, although I am a huge fan of this band (singer Rachel Nagy’s voice is outstanding) they were definitely having an off night. Partly due to her vocals being buried in the mix, partly due to maybe a little bit too much partying before the set (I’m guessing here), they just were not firing on all cylinders this night. Too bad, because when they are on, they are just amazing.
But really, the night belonged to Wayne Kramer. He has long been a musical hero of mine - I won’t pretend to have been listening to MC5 since I was a young boy, I really didn’t know much about them other than the name for many years. Then I ran across a song by Wayne Kramer on the Epitaph compilation cd Punk-O-Rama and fell in love. I ran out and bought his first solo record (The Hard Stuff, released in 1994, find it if you can, it’s amazing) and was hooked. From there I started to work my way through his discography backwards and landed on Kick Out The Jams. Revolutionary record, released in 1968 and it was the catalyst for fellow Detroit natives the Stooges, featuring one Iggy Pop.
But I digress. Brother Wayne and Co. came out and just owned the stage from moment one. For a band that hasn’t played together for a real long time, they were as tight as any band I have ever seen. The rhythm section of Gould and Canty just owned the low end, locked into a groove. Kim Thayil and Wayne locked into a twin guitar attack on some songs, then Kim ended up playing rhythm, adding texture to songs, and being a perfect foil for Wayne. The wildcard of the evening was going to be singer Marcus Durant. I have heard some Zen Guerrilla albums and liked them, and I have heard that some of the shows they put on were legendary in the garage rock scene, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. I was not disappointed. He was able to sound like the late Rob Tyner while still adding his vocal twist to the songs. Plus, I have to admit, he looked just a little like him. They played the entire Kick Out The Jams LP, as well as selections from the other two albums in the MC5 roster.
This is as close as I will ever get to seeing the MC5 live, and I am okay with that. You could close your eyes and really believe you were there in ‘68, living the birth of the grand daddys of punk rock. I’m glad I got the chance, I felt as though I had been at a religious revival, that’s how good the music was. I often get that feeling when seeing live music, but this was close to the real thing. If I had the chance to see this lineup again, I would definitely not hesitate to go. If they are coming to your town, go. Don’t overthink. You will not be disappointed with this show.
See ya next time with more records to recommend!
(All photographs are not mine - all respect due to the original photogs)
Current Listening: MC5 Back In The USA; Various Artists Before You Were Punk, Prince Piano & A Microphone 1983; Mudhoney Digital Garbage; Rick & Morty Soundtrack