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High time
Is three-fifths of the MC5 better than none?

In the late í60s, you could argue that the MC5 were the most dangerous band in America. Our government did: a new DVD, Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5 includes surveillance footage of the bandís performance at the 1968 Democratic Convention shot by the US Army. Bridging soul and hard rock with a fervor that influenced countless punk bands in their wake, the MC5 had their own political wing, the White Panther Party, and a 10-point program that included their infamous rallying cry: "Rock and roll, dope, and fucking in the streets." And though guitarist Wayne Kramer is now leading an unlikely MC5 revival ó which arrives at the Middle East next Thursday ó there are a few changes in store. Rock and roll is still a given ó Kramer has maintained a cult-level production and solo career ó but, he says, "Thereís no more dope. [Heís a recovering junkie who did time in the slammer for selling coke to a cop.] And Iím happily married ó sex stays in the bedroom."

There are, by necessity, other changes. The MC5ís shock-haired singer, Rob Tyner, died of a heart attack in 1991 and guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith went the same way in 1994. Kramer says the two are, of course, "irreplaceable." But heís reunited with the surviving members ó bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson ó to form a new group, DKT/MC5, who on their current tour are aided and abetted by assorted rock-star acolytes. The unlikely trio of Marshall Crenshaw, Evan Dando, and Mudhoneyís Mark Arm join on guitars and vocals stateside; the Hellacoptersí Nick Royale covers in Europe; and Radio Birdmanís Deniz Tek handles the Pacific Rim. These motley crews will be kicking out assorted jams from the bandís heavy heyday for pretty much the first time since the MC5 imploded in 1972.

Because of the absence of Tyner and Smith, Kramer is adamant that the current tour is not a real MC5 reunion but rather a "celebration" that pays tribute to his departed comrades while giving younger audiences the chance to hear the bandís seminal songs live for the first time. "Iíd like to think that weíre honoring them and their work, giving it a chance to be heard by thousands of people that might have never heard it. The songwriting genius of Fred Smith reaches a whole new generationís ears. The concepts that Rob Tyner invented get to finally find some listeners."

This non-reunion reunion had its beginnings last spring when the group did a one-off gig at Londonís 100 Club with Motörheadís Lemmy Kilmister and the Cultís Ian Astbury helping out. The show was sponsored by Leviís Jeans, in part to drum up interest in their line of faux vintage MC5 T-shirts. That raised the hackles of many fans, who were incredulous that these one-time White Panther Party radicals could work for corporate Americaís filthy lucre.

Kramer calls that the "not-being-revolutionary-enough-for-the-revolution sentiment," and though he understands it, he says that "as an artist, you do what you have to do to carry on your work. There used to be a time when you could get a record company to finance projects. We canít do that anymore; thatís not in the landscape. And even that is still working with a corporation, so itís a specious argument to make."

At any rate, Kramer still has his lefty bona fides. He does work with Tom Morello and Serj Tankianís Axis of Justice, and heís a member of Punkvoter, the activist group founded by NOFXís Fat Mike. "Criticism doesnít hurt me. I think itís a healthy thing for people to question their idols. We were criticized for not being revolutionary enough for the revolution back in the revolution. By much more severe critics. Itís another thing when the Black Panthers are saying youíre Ďpsychedelic clowns.í They had guns!"

DKT/MC5 perform with Mark Arm, Evan Dando, and Marshall Crenshaw next Thursday, June 17, downstairs at the Middle East, 480 Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. Tickets are $20; call (617) 931-2000.

Issue Date: June 11 - 17, 2004
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