Someday, Wayne Kramer will pen his autobiography. It will be a tale of revolution and rebellion, addiction and incarceration, revelation and redemption. Kramer’s story is a compelling one, and could become a preferred text in Rock ‘n’ Roll 101, but until he commits his words to the page his primary creative outlet remains in music. And it is his music, past and present, which continues to define the man affectionately known to his friends and fans as Brother Wayne.
And so it is that Kramer took the stage at Joe’s Pub, armed with only an acoustic guitar and a tapping foot for a metronome. The intimate setting was perfect for the older and wiser Brother Wayne. Why perfect? It was reminiscent of the Greenwich Village coffee houses that hosted beat poets, jazz musicians, and folkies in the ‘50s and ‘60s, and Kramer’s set was comprised exclusively of his solo work—a wonderful amalgam of spoken word and blues with a pinch of rock residue.
20 May 2006: Joe's Pub New York
Over the past decade, solo efforts have put greater distance between Kramer and his storied career with the MC5. Although his writing is still laced with anti-establishment sentiments, Kramer is far from the model of Neil Young-as-aging-hippie spokesman; rather, he is a polished and articulate societal observer, incorporating sharp cultural criticism with wry humor, while offering thought-provoking commentary over six-string accompaniment. Who’d have imagined the once wild-haired, wild-eyed Motor City bad boy would settle into middle age as such an understated revolutionary?
For the better part of an hour, Kramer served up a dozen songs, jumping back and forth between the albums he’s penned since the mid-‘90s. Opening with “Something Broken in the Promised Land” (from 1996’s Dangerous Madness), Kramer set the tone with a grim depiction of the country’s current state of affairs. Though the song was penned 10 years ago, much of its content still rings relevant—from the disparity of the nation’s wealth to the oppressive political climate. And Kramer’s Spartan presentation only drove the words home that much harder.
Similarly, the three entries from 1997’s Citizen Wayne (“Shining Mr. Lincoln’s Shoes”, Revolution in Apt. 29”, and “No Easy Way Out”) carried an undertone of sadness, desperation, and futility. Once again, the messages delivered through Kramer’s vivid word pictures were stark: are things that fucked up? Brother Wayne thinks so, and he’s telling us with conviction.
That’s not to say the set lacked uplifting moments. “Great Big Amp” (from 2002’s Adult World) was an amusing, albeit honest, take on superficiality and materialism; “So Long Hank” (LLMF 1998) was a vigorous acoustic, spoken-word workout, showcasing Kramer’s still potent fretboard skills. And let us not forget the reception that Brother Wayne received upon taking and leaving the stage; it was a profound expression of love from his fans, and evidence that he still retains a place in our collective hearts.
It’s always special to see a veteran musician in a modest unplugged environment, especially if that artist is more known for larger venues and electric performances. In Kramer’s case, we’ll forever look fondly back upon his days with the MC5, but that Brother Wayne lives on only as a memory. What we have now is a mature and eloquent artist, one who drives us to thought as easily as he drives us to applause—two things we hope he does for many years to come. Don’t be fooled this motherfucker still kicks out the jams.
Wayne Kramer and The Bellrays - Operation Ceasefire Concert in Washington DC [24 September 2005]
// Notes from the Road
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