Back In The UK – DKT / MC5
First published January 2006
Original MC5 bass player Michael Davis is musing on the popularity of this years rock’n’roll reunions. “The Dolls, the Stooges and now us – I think people are attracted to the source. People want to look back and see where it all came from.” Michael plus original drummer Dennis Thompson and guitarist Wayne Kramer are in London as DKT/MC5. Also present at the reliably tatty Columbia Hotel are guest vocalist Mark Arm (Mudhoney) and guest guitarist Nicke Royale (Hellacopters). Sadly not present are departed MC5 lead singer Rob Tyner and twin lead guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith, although Michael pays tribute to them: “I hope Rob and Fred would be happy with what we are doing with the legacy of the MC5. As the DKT we are treating it with honour.”
The previous evening had seen a screening of the new DVD “Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5”. A MOJO-invited audience were treated to a highly entertaining documentary on the lives and high times of the MC5, followed by a Q&A with Wayne, Michael and Dennis. There was much reminiscing from both band and audience about the last time they’d played England in 1972 – getting bottled off by 60,000 pissed-up Teds at the Wembley Rock’n’Roll Revival show and surviving Phun City, Worthing’s answer to Altamont (read all about it in Mick Farrens excellent autobiography “Give The Anarchist A Cigarette”). At the heart of the new DVD is 60 minutes of footage from the first DKT/MC5 show, filmed at London’s 100 Club last March with celebrity guest vocalists such Lemmy, Dave Vanian and Ian Astbury.
Thankfully the DKT/MC5 set at the Astoria that followed the screening was celeb-free, allowing the core band to demonstrate how tight they’ve become on this world tour. Augmented on stage by singers Lisa Kekaula (Bellrays) and Kate O’Brien, DKT/MC5 delivered a long, varied set bearing out Wayne’s belief that “the MC5 has always tried to honour the audience – we believed it was the artists responsibility to upgrade the audiences listening taste. Playing Sun-Ra’s Starship as our second encore was a deliberate decision to stretch the thing out a bit and show all facets of the band. We write a new setlist every night, we wanna play all the material but you can’t play it all every night so it rotates through – depends on who the special guest might be that night. In San Francisco Roy Loney from the Flamin’ Groovies came up with the band, the only time on this tour we’ve played Tutti Frutti”.
Wayne handled lead vocals with aplomb on Rambling Rose and Rocket Reducer (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa), whilst Nicke did equally well on Tonight and The American Ruse. Michael did a great job on early single I Can Only Give You Everything – “there’s a certain type of song that I gravitate towards, kind of poppy chord songs.“ The bulk of the set was sung by Mark – on his own for Sister Ann (with kazoo ending), Call Me Animal, Over and Over and I Want You Right Now and duetting with Lisa on Shakin’ Street, Kick Out the Jams and a fabulous slow version of Ray Charles “I Believe To My Soul”. Incredibly the MC5 never released an official version of this song despite Michael’s comments that “it was a one-two punch we had in the old days, finishing our set and setting up Black To Comm”.
Although the MC5 have a reputation as total rabble-rousers it was the slower songs that moved me. Wayne is clear – “I don’t think you can hammer people over the head with 150BPM all night – we always had a broader view of what we were trying to present.” Lisa really convinced on the slow blues “Motor City Is Burning”, and she and Kate duetted up a storm on first encore “Let Me Try” . Lisa even managed to make me like The Human Being Lawnmower for the first time, as well as sporting a bigger Afro than even peak-era Rob Tyner. Michael and Dennis were a sprightly rhythm section. Wayne machine-gunned the audience visually and sonically whilst Nicke was more Fred than Fred in his moves and in his licks. But as he says “I play like this with my own band, and I moved like this before I saw footage of the MC5. But I am playing a white Mosrite like Fred Smith, its kind of nerdy.” The stereo guitar conversation between Wayne and Nicke at the conclusion of set closer Rocket Reducer demonstrated just how well their playing meshed.
Back at the Columbia Wayne is philosophical about how he can play under his own name at the Garage to only 40 people, but virtually sell out the Astoria as DKT/MC5. “The MC5 is a brand and Wayne Kramer is not. Sometimes those 40 or 50 people are just the people I am looking for.” He explains how come Levi’s have their name all over the DVD. “Rob Tyners widow and the artist Gary Grimshaw sold out the MC5’s trademark to Levi’s without our permission. When some British journalists called my wife and manager Margaret Kramer and she realised what had happened she was able to take a real bad situation and apply some creative energy and say ‘If you guys are really into the MC5 why don’t you really make something happen?’. It was Alec Samways (Levi’s London PR) idea to stage a promotional gig at the 100 Club in London, film it and get Levi’s to pay for it. “
More legal shenigans surround “Future Now – A True Testimonial”, a long-gestating film about the MC5 which reportedly contains some stunning footage but now appears unlikely to be released, largely because of a falling out with Wayne. “We wanted FutureNow to be the filming unit for the DVD but they viewed anything other than their film as a threat. No–one is more disappointed than I am that the film is not out.” Similarly threatened are the extensive range of quasi-legal MC5 live and unreleased CDs released over the last few years by a plethora of small labels including Alive / Total Energy, owned by former-manager John Sinclair. “Over the last few years we’ve been reining all that stuff in, having them deleted from all these little labels. We want to unify our work and have some control over the quality. Some are good, some ain’t so good – “Do It” isn’t even us, it’s the Rob Tyner band! We’ve cherry picked all the best bits for a 6 CD set that will be coming out soon on Easy Action, our UK label.”
Michael is unsure about plans for DKT/MC5 beyond the current tour “I don’t know, we haven’t discussed anything specifically”. There might be something released from the shows. “We’ve recorded almost all the gigs, we’re looking and listening – depends if there is anything that really sparkles.” He doesn’t feel that much has changed since they started in 1965. “I didn’t have a clue back then and I still don’t. We were just trying things out, we just went for the things that appealed to us, in our bobbed haircuts and Carnaby Street clothes. I’d do anything that allowed me to make music and that’s where I’m at today.”
The vintage footage in the new DVD produces a more philosophical response from Wayne. “I have reflected on the guy that I see in that footage. A young man – ebullient, happy, dancing, long-haired – who seems to have the world at his fingertips. And he has no idea of what’s around the corner, no idea the depths to which he’s about to fall. Months away things are going to go terribly, terribly wrong and then its going to take decades to get back to the spirit that the young man had, before drug-addiction and alcoholism carried him on the road that was not a happy road. I see this today in most of the young people who are pursuing fame, this idea that if I achieve this fame I’ll be delivered and I’ll have this good life. And this great lie that we manufacture in Hollywood and sell to the world. Which isn’t to say there’s anything wrong with wanting to be an artist or a musician. But the pursuit of fame – ‘man I’m going to be big, I’m going to have it all’ – is very damaging and doesn’t get talked about a lot.”
“The MC5 really was an experimental band. As much as we were trying to be pop successes our roots were in avant-garde performance art, agit-prop and street theatre. We never had a hit single, we never were at the top of the charts, we broke up 150 years ago and here we are doing this world tour to packed houses just on the strength of the people wanting to hear this music.”
And if you think that is just failed rockstar jive then buy the DVD, select the original live promo film of Kick Out The Jams made by John and Leni Sinclair and marvel that a band as vibrant, incendiary and righteous as the MC5 somehow failed to connect with the success they so richly deserved. DTK are truly a celebration of the MC5 and for that reason are worthy of your time and your money.
For further information Michael recommends the MC5 Gateway at http://www.makemyday.free.fr/mc5.htm (“it’s awesome”).
“Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5” is out now on DVD (Image Entertainment / BMG).