Wayne Kramer Resurrects an MC5 Classic with Help from Soundgarden and Fugazi

Published: October 10, 2018
Come together one last time to see the MC5's Wayne Kramer and pals Kick Out the Jams. by Dave Segal

Not all rock-nostalgia tours are created equal. Some of them are actually good.

Take, for example, Kick Out the Jams: The 50th Anniversary Tour headed by the MC5's Wayne Kramer and a band of younger all-stars (coming to the Showbox on Tuesday, October 16). The rambunctious guitarist and his crack pickup squad are resurrecting one of the most influential debut albums of all time, Kick Out the Jams, a Molotov cocktail of Detroit working-class fury and musical detonations that not only blew out John Lee Hooker and Sun Ra songs, it foreshadowed the blitzkrieg maneuvers of metal and punk. These members of John Sinclair's anti-racist White Panther party not only talked a tough revolution game, they also soundtracked it. (Risking bodily harm and arrest, the MC5 were the only band to perform at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.) Many young rockers still emulate their power moves today.

With three original MC5 members deceased and drummer Dennis Thompson absent, Kramer has selected Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty, Zen Guerrilla vocalist Marcus Durant, Faith No More bassist Billy Gould, and Soundgarden guitarist Kim Thayil to help him reanimate the MC5's potent catalog. For this tour, they're performing as MC50.

Playing MC5 songs "with Wayne Kramer is very unbelievable," Thayil says in an interview, laughing. "It's a bit of a mindfuck, I suppose."

Thayil first read about the MC5 in Creem magazine when he was a teen, but because their records were out of print by the mid- 1970s, he had to dig hard in used-record bins to find their three LPs. Once he did, they became his favorite band.

Thayil first met Kramer in the early 1990s at a function in Detroit involving Soundgarden and the MC5. Kramer saw Soundgarden play live, and afterward in the dressing room, he told them he noticed similarities between the two groups, a compliment that stayed with Thayil. So it made sense that Thayil would get enlisted to play in the DKT tour in 2004 with surviving MC5 members Kramer, Thompson, and Michael Davis, plus Mudhoney's Mark Arm.

If you go to the MC50 show, don't expect perfect replications of Kick Out the Jams songs and other canonical highlights. MC50 often embellish these familiar tracks. "There are some modifications that Wayne has made," Thayil says. "He'll add little endings, hooks, or chords that he wants to do."

So far, MC50's crowds have been enthusiastic. "Consistently what we hear is that this is way more than they expected," Thayil says. "They often say they're expecting some kind of run-through of the hits, or a cover band. Then they get something that's passionate and real. You're getting a band that's communicating and relating with each other and doing sets that are spontaneous and loose."

Thayil says that Kramer has "allowed flexibility and liberty in the arrangements, for our voices to come through. You'll get that it's Brendan Canty; he's even got that damn bell he had in Fugazi. Our personalities definitely come through. Combined, it makes it another thing, a reinterpretation of the MC5 that I think is fairly true to the original, but it's also something different."

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