Most music aficionados know the mighty MC5 for their “Kick out the jams, motherfuckers!” rallying cry and from the folklore surrounding the band’s fiery rise and fall. True historians however, understand that the 5 were not just a quintet of hard rocking musical revolutionaries, but an entity grounded in precise musicianship and armed with a penchant for sonic exploration. Their music was an amalgam of psychedelia, R&B, jazz, and everything else available at the time, and it provided inspiration for the countless artists following in their footsteps. Detroit’s star-spangled bad boys were avant-rock long before Yes and King Crimson, and without any of the artsy pretension.
Thus, when surviving members Michael Davis, Wayne Kramer, and Dennis Thompson reconvened in 2003/2004 as DKT/MC5, the focus was on celebrating their music with a roster of guest performers, all of whom bore divergent creative pedigrees. The result was an acclaimed world tour, all paying tribute to a glorious musical time past, but with modern day flavor. For 2005, DKT returned with a similar plan, but a different line-up, each yielding even greater results.
As the Big Apple baked in the humid summer temperatures, the band rolled into Gotham for a special double-header. Opening at Brooklyn’s Northsix (then performing a free outdoor show at Central Park’s SummerStage), DKT readied themselves to play the entirety of Kick Out the Jams. What they gave the packed house was a rousing two-hour set that shook the club to its core, thanks to a dynamic cast of participants.
Although the incendiary introduction (originally voiced by Brother J.C. Crawford) was missing, Brother Wayne launched into “Ramblin’ Rose” to kick off the evening’s festivities, proving that time has not diminished his fretboard mastery one iota. Close behind were Davis and the Machine Gunner, locking into their rhythmic groove as if they’d never been apart. Reprising his role as lead vocalist, Mark Arm (Mudhoney) seemed at ease as he wailed his way through the album’s songs, including the title track, “Come Together”, “I Want You Right Now” and closer “Starship”. While Arm’s command of the material was impressive (as it was during the 2004 tour), it was the BellRays’ Lisa Kekaula who floored those in attendance with impassioned vocals on both “Borderline” and “Motor City is Burning”. Her husky tone and electrifying stage persona channeled the spirit of Rob Tyner and placed Kekaula somewhere between James Brown and Janis Joplin (although she will always be most compared to Tina Turner).
With Arm and Kekaula in the fold, it would seem that DKT had covered all the bases. But this was a celebration of the MC5’s musical legacy and the shadow of Kramer’s former six string compatriot, Fred “Sonic” Smith, loomed large. Fortunately for Brother Wayne, he brought along a fellow gunslinger who ably rounded out the sound: G’NR alum (and now producer/solo artist), Gilby Clarke. Although filling Sonic’s shoes appears a daunting task, Clarke brought more than mere technical proficiency to the mix; his metal roots offered a blistering compliment to Kramer’s Stratocaster, and he shadowed him effortlessly, (even taking the reins later in the evening on “Tonight”).
So strong was the Kick Out the Jams set that DKT could have easily taken their bows to thunderous cheers, leaving the modest Brooklyn confines as conquering heroes. Instead, the band took a momentary breather and treated attendees to an additional hour-plus of MC5 classics. Kramer and Davis led, sharing vocal duties on “Shakin’ Street” with Arm and Kekaula each helming a trio of songs (“Sister Anne”/“Over and Over”/ Encore - “Black to Comm” and “The Human Being Lawnmower”/ “Looking at You”/Encore - “I Believe to My Soul” respectively). Yet it was New York’s own Handsome Dick Manitoba who commandeered the proceedings with his endearing street tough renditions of “Call Me Animal”, “High School”, and American Ruse”. Remember the Dictators? The Handsome One certainly does, and so do those who shared this special Northsix night with DKT.
As amazing as the first performance was, a true celebration of the MC5 would not be complete without a free show, particularly one set in New York’s Central Park. Thus DKT rested up, then took SummerStage on Saturday afternoon in front of several thousand delighted fans. The outdoor set was significantly shorter than that of the previous eve, but the energy and enthusiasm were undeniable. The band was once again hitting on all musical cylinders. And true to the 5’s experimental roots, DKT was joined by opening act the Sun Ra Arkestra for an interplanetary journey reminiscent of George Clinton’s full blown Mothership freak-outs.
The most striking aspect of the performance came in the realization that DKT had harnessed the 5’s skill at melding varying influences into a maelstrom of sights and sounds. From Arm’s grunge sensibilities, to Kekaula’s bluesy ballsiness, Clarke’s metal flair, Manitoba’s Noo Yawk punk aesthetic, and the Arkestra’s jazz infusion, DKT blended an array of musical genres into a single sonic kaleidoscope. Nearly four decades since the 5’s zenith, DKT took their audience on a trip back to the free-form ‘60s, a time to be cherished, but sadly one that will never be seen again.
To say that DKT’s visit to New York was outstanding would not do the shows, or the band, justice. Davis, Kramer, and Thompson succeeded where many groups on nostalgia tours have failed, by paying homage to the beauty of what was by offering the possibilities of what is without compromising their former band’s legacy in the process. Who can say if DKT will continue to tour and honor the music of the MC5? If so, then fans have something to look forward to; if not, at least they ended an era by kicking out the jams with grace and style.