"Tell us about the revolution!" a frantic, stringy-haired young man kept shouting between Wayne Kramer songs at the Middle East a week ago Tuesday. What he hadnít noticed was that Kramer, who spent his own rock youth in the MC5, was showing us. From raw chords and guitar solos that blasted out terse, thorny melodies, he crafted a musical springboard for any leap he cared to take: into straight power pop, brazen old-school blues rock, free-form clamor, or spoken-word recitations. And that kind of creative freedom, which the 5 pioneered when they burst out of Detroit into history more than 30 years ago, is about as revolutionary as artistic expression gets.
With his tasteful dress shirt and trousers, neat-trimmed hair and black-framed glasses, the 54-year-old Kramer seemed every bit the rock professor, sharing his knowledge through the biting, sandpaper tone he pitted against apocalyptic visions like "Pillar of Fire" and his stomping underdogís anthem "Brought a Knife to the Gunfight." The latter, like most of the set, was from his new Adult World (Muscle Tone), which follows the recent reissue of several of his early-í90s solo albums. From the playful irony of "Great Big Amp" and "Adult World" to the gritty dime-novel allusions of "What About Laura," his lyrics displayed a casual literacy that mirrored the intellect of his playing. That was especially true of "Nelson Algren Stopped By," a witty evocation of the late novelist that blended noirish one-liners and pathos while affording Kramer a chance to lay down his guitar and conduct an expressionist jam with his backing trio as he stabbed at a keyboard.
Kramer couldnít suppress a complicated smile when he stepped to the microphone to yell, "Itís time to kick out the jams, motherfuckers!", as MC5 singer Rob Tyner did so famously on the 5ís great live 1969 LP Kick Out the Jams (Elektra). Back then America actually was ripe for, if not revolution, at least evolution; and the 5ís "Kick Out the Jams" was a guts-and-glory rock-and-roll anthem that sounded like a new beginning. At the Middle East, Kramerís brassy version was the setís end and a sort of summation of the distance heís traveled: zooming early on to the heights of big-league rock, then to ruin with bad business dealings, drugs, and jail, and finally on to the peak of his artistry today ó a cycle of revolution to revolution, with revelations along the way.