If any band was supposed to stay broken up, it was the MC5. After all, neither their political controversy at events like the 1968 Democratic Convention riots nor their pioneering fusion of blue-collar rock with Motown soul managed to make superstars out of the guys who tore through "Kick Out the Jams." Also, after their 1972 breakup, the members went through enough personal turmoil to make the fall of Guns N' Roses look like a playground booboo.
Still, troubles with drugs, poverty and the law weren't enough to finish the MC5, though it took the sudden death of lead singer Rob Tyner in 1991 to prove that to the band members themselves.
Their 1991 reunion, says drummer Dennis Thompson, "was bittersweet. We hadn't played with each other since the breakup in '72, and then we had to come together over the death of a member... As far as [the band] gelling, though, it wasn't a problem at all. Those songs were burnt into our muscle memory."
The memorial concert, held to raise money for Tyner's family, was the only thing left to convince the remaining MC5 to regroup, but after that, the band racked up 12 more years of separation, and they also lost guitarist Fred Smith in 1994. Hopes for another reunion diminished as their legacy continued to grow.
"There was a methodology that the MC5 created--a way to play music," says lead guitarist Wayne Kramer. "That kind of music has been narrow-cast and marketed successfully over the last 30 years in countless heavy metal and punk rock bands, but [the MC5] is really the core of it."
"We were fortunate to be in [Detroit] where we were loaded with great music like Motown, many other bands, a lot of cross talk and a lot of talk about trying new things," Thompson says. "The reason this music may last a long time is because it was created from a wellspring of influences. We wanted to be unique, yet we always wanted to write hits...so we studied everything."
Dallas gets a rare chance to see the bounty of those studies Saturday night, as Kramer, Thompson and bassist Michael Davis are set to perform as the DKT/MC5. Notice the new name (DKT stands for Davis Kramer Thompson): The guys are calling the show a celebration of the band rather than a reunion, but either way, the tour was not entirely because of the band members' burning desire to celebrate but rather because of Levi's Jeans throwing a London concert to promote a new clothing line using the MC5's trademark design.
"When Levi's brought us to the 100 Club in London, it was wonderful," Thompson says. "We knew there'd be a companion DVD to the London show that was coming out, so Wayne and his management figured maybe we could play Detroit, Chicago and New York. We got the word out, and within days, plenty of offers came in. All of a sudden, we had a tour."
Both Thompson and Kramer made a case for the tour being coincidental, as well as promotion for the Sonic Revolution DVD, which features their 2003 London performance in its entirety, a BBC documentary and a few rare clips from the '60s. The DVD hits stores July 6. But as the guys talked, their musical motivations were ultimately laid bare.
"The musicianship is radically better [than 30 years ago]," Kramer says. "I'm not as good as I could or should be, but I'm considerably better than I was at 19...and I think we're doing it better night by night. I've been pleasantly blindsided by it."
"When the band broke up, and I can only speak for myself, it was like stepping on a land mine in Vietnam," Thompson says. "It took a long time for me to recover from losing the band. I didn't know how deeply I felt that loss until I got back and started doing this DKT tour. I'm finally feeling a sense of resolution about playing this music with these men, that this is what I wanted to do all along, and, my God, it took 32 years to do it."
To round out the lineup, the tour features the Lemonheads' Evan Dando and Mudhoney's Mark Arm on vocals along with Marshall Crenshaw on rhythm guitar.
"I called Marshall because I've worked with him before," Kramer says. "I'm a huge fan of his guitar playing, and he's from Detroit, so he has a neighborhood connection. [Dando and Arm] just presented themselves. They demanded to be in the band."
That sounds a little too simple, but judging from recent concert reviews and the new DVD, DKT/MC5 has made all the right choices in its resurgence. The intensity of their 1969 debut live album, Kick Out the Jams, hasn't waned an ounce, nor has the political bite of their revolutionary stance, even though the members may not agree on that latter point.
"You can't separate the societal conditions of that day from our music...but now it's not about the politics," Thompson says. "It's not about the police, or George Bush, or movements. It's about MC5 music. That's all I want to do."
"We were part of a generation that was in total agreement that the direction of the country...was wrong," Kramer says. "Although there's less agreement today, there are a great many Americans who are saying, 'not in my name.' That's what we did as a generation and what we did as artists and musicians. You can't separate [our music] from that. That was the vehicle that gave our frustration a voice. The MC5 message was to take responsibility. Create something in the world, don't just take. "
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