MC50 - Live in Grand Rapids (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review


Live in Grand Rapids (2018)

live show

I’ve always been fascinated by MC5. I enjoy their LPs and singles, but it’s more than that. It’s their combination of forward thinking music, radical politics and their dangerous aura. When you consider that they were making this revolutionary noise more than 50 years ago, it’s that much more impressive. (The Beatles were still the biggest band in the world at the time!) The fact that they emerged from a self immolating Detroit only adds to their sense of menace. They were among the handful of most influential proto punk bands. The Motor City Five split up in 1972, the year before I was born. When I heard Wayne Kramer was putting together an all star band to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kick Out the Jams, I was very interested.

Only two of the original Five are still with us, so a true reunion was not possible. Singer Rob Tyner died in 1991. Guitarist Fred “Sonic” Smith followed in 1994. Bassist MIchael Davis passed away in 2012. Drummer Dennis Thomson is still around, but is not touring with MC50. He may participate as he is able. I think it was a wise move for Brother Wayne not to call this MC5. Rather, it’s a celebration of their timeless music. For this run of shows, Kramer was joined by guitarist Kim Thayil of Soundgarden, bassist Billy Gould of Faith No More, drummer Brendan Canty of Fugazi and singer Marcus Durant of Zen Guerilla.

The show was on Saturday, September 22nd at 20 Monroe Live in downtown Grand Rapids. It’s not one of my favorite venues, but they book enough interesting stuff to get me in the door once in a while. We bribed my 19 year old son to be our amature Uber driver for the night by supplying him with ample date money, and four guys in their 40s hit the city for a night of fun. We pregamed fairly heavily at a different bar to avoid the outrageous drink prices in the venue. Showtime wasn’t until 9, so we had plenty of time for it.

We turned up in time to catch about half of opener The Detroit Cobras’ 30 minute set. The Detroit Cobras play retro garage rock built around the voice of Rachel Nagy and the guitar of Mary Ramirez. They’ve been around for more than 20 years, and feature a revolving live lineup. I’d like to check out some of their records, but they’ve put out a lot of material and I’m not quite sure where to start. Anyway, I enjoyed the little bit of them that I got to hear. It was kind of a cross between the girl groups of the 1960s and the garage revival of the early 2000s.

MC50 took the stage about 10, to the crowd noise from the Kick Out the Jams album. It was so realistic, it sent a chill down my spine. For a moment I could imagine being in the Grande Ballroom in Detroit on Halloween of 1968 when it was recorded. They opened with the Kramer sung “Ramblin’ Rose”, and then we were off to the races. Kramer took the place of Tyner when introducing the title track with “It’s time to kick out the jams, motherfuckers!”. Speaking of replacing Tyner, Durant casts a big shadow. He looks quite a bit like Tyner, but he must be six inches taller. He has the big, bushy hairdo, a similar voice, and has his moves down too.

Kramer is now 70 years old, but he was the most animated guy on stage. He was constantly spinning around and doing the Pete Townshend windmill. He had no problem showing up his 50 something bandmates. After a life of excess, he seems to be in pretty damn good shape. His blistering solos certainly haven’t lost their bite over the course of half a century. Especially incendiary was their cover of John Lee Hooker’s “Motor City is Burning”. MC5 was always about the marriage of revolutionary ideas and aggressive rock and roll. That’s what was truly punk about it. In hindsight, the music was like a revved up version of The Kinks or The Who.

After wrapping up “Starship”, the last song from Kick Out the Jams, MC50 launched into a mini set of singles and album cuts. Back in the USA was well represented with six tracks, including two for the encore. Refreshingly, they didn’t try modernize or increase the heaviness of the original recordings.They just let the songs do the talking. Overall, it was a highly entertaining 80 minute set. It was closest I’m ever going to get to seeing MC5, and there should have been more people there to enjoy it. I know the show was probably a far cry from those radical gatherings of the late 60s, but I was pleased just to catch a little glimpse of it.

MC50 setlist:

Ramblin’ Rose

Kick Out the Jams

Come Together

Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)


Motor City Is Burning

I Want You Right Now


I Can Only Give You Everything

High School

Shakin’ Street



Call Me Animal


Let Me Try

Looking at You