“We are not the MC5,” announced founding MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer during a Thursday press conference at London’s 100 Club. “This is not an MC5 show. This is not an MC5 reunion. It’s a celebration of the music of the MC5.”
At the club that night, the band’s surviving members — Kramer, bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis “Machine Gun” Thompson — played their first live gig together in thirty years, and such MC5 disciples as Motorhead’s Lemmy, the Damned’s Dave Vanian and the Stone Roses’ Mani helped them celebrate the reunion.
“If tonight’s performance is good there might be another record here,” continued Kramer. Of course, the irony that the MC5 members were reuniting to help launch Levi’s new line of vintage clothing was as loud as their ferocious guitars. “I like the product and I have no problem being here,” offered Davis during the press conference.
By the time the show’s opener “Skunk” kicked in, the evening’s underwriter and Kramer’s earlier denunciation were all but forgotten, as the band sounded exactly like, well, the MC5.
During the Sixties, the Detroit five-piece blazed a ferocious trail toward punk with their feedback-laden, free-form sonic assaults. Managed by svengali John Sinclair, the MC5 took to using rock & roll as a tool to affect political and social change. They formed the White Panther party and became anarchist counter-culture revolutionaries, preaching a manifesto that included an end to money and “a total assault of the culture by any means necessary, including rock & roll, dope, and fucking in the streets.” After debuting with the live classic Kick Out the Jams in 1969, they released two more albums before disbanding unceremoniously after a final New Year’s Eve concert at Detroit’s Grand Ballroom in 1972. Other than a reunion at a memorial for MC5 singer Rob Tyner, who died in 1991, the band’s surviving members had not played together since.
The choice of venue was no accident, as the 100 Club was the site of the first English punk festival in September 1976 — featuring the Sex Pistols, the Damned, the Clash, the Buzzcocks and Suzie (later to become Siouxsie) and the Banshees — considered by many rock historians as the springboard of the U.K. punk explosion.
And so was the 300-strong audience. With Nicke Royale, from Swedish garage punk band the Hellacopters, filling in for Fred “Sonic” Smith (who died in 1994) on guitar, and a two-piece horn section — saxophonist Ralph “Buzzy” Jones and trumpeter Dr. Charles Moore, who played on the band’s third album, High Time — the band blazed through a ninety-minute high-octane set that cherry-picked from their classic albums. Lemmy thundered through “Sister Anne” and “Back in the USA.” Vanian looked as vampirical as ever as he tore into “Tonight,” “Looking At You” and “High School,” and newcomer Kate O’Brien tackled “Let Me Try.” During the first encore, Ian Astbury took some time out from being Jim Morrison in the newly reformed Doors to sing a rousing version of the “Kick Out the Jams,” and after the final chord sounded from “Black to Comm,” the crowd mingled as Mani from the Stone Roses spun records.