[22 August 2004]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Of the many words that could describe the MC5’s legacy, controversy would be prominently displayed on the list. From the band’s high octane blend of blues, jazz and psychedelic rock, to its take-no-prisoners approach on and off stage, every aspect of the Five’s being challenged the musical and social mores of the ‘60s. So then, it is no surprise that 30-plus years after the band’s disintegration, the three surviving members are embroiled in, you guessed it, a controversy.
The core of the problem has been punctuated by an ugly legal battle, with bassist Michael Davis, guitarist Wayne Kramer and drummer Dennis Thompson on one side, and the producers of a full length MC5 documentary on the other. As the proceedings have left the cinematic project in limbo until further notice, DKT has filled the artistic void by releasing its own film, Sonic Revolution. Showcasing the band’s gig at London’s 100 Club from 2003, the DVD balances the present with a fascinating glimpse at the MC5’s past through archival clips and thought provoking commentary.
The one-off show grew out of a strangely convoluted Levi’s merchandising promotion whereby the MC5 name was used on a line of clothing. Marketing issues aside, what matters most is that the deal brought DKT together to revisit music created many years prior; a gathering that had not occurred since the untimely passing of MC5 vocalist Rob Tyner in 1991.
Backed by guest artists including Motorhead’s Lemmy and The Cult’s Ian Astbury, DKT churn through a dozen classics before an enthusiastic crowd. The most interesting aspect of the London footage is seeing DKT adapt to uncertainty: Davis and Kramer handling vocal parts once the exclusive domain of Tyner; re-establishing their rhythmic timing after an extended period apart; doing justice to The MC5 without trying to be The MC5. If nothing else, the concert serves as a character study in DKT making peace with what was so as to embrace what is, and what can still be.
The DVD also contains enough bonus material to appease the most discerning fan. Extended segments with DKT provide rare glimpses of the men behind the legend, as they offer anecdotes and insights to the MC5’s origins and purpose; interviews with music industry personalities and fans attest to the band’s lasting influence; vintage live footage of a deafening television performance of “Black to Comm” is contrasted against a pair of campy lip-synched offerings on the “Lively Spot” music show; promotional band film and chillingly silent U.S. Department of Defense surveillance snippets evidence the stark socio-political turmoil the band thrived in.
While not a definitive history lesson on the MC5, Sonic Revolution is a satisfying glance at a band whose impact on music far overshadowed its commercial success. Additionally, the DVD is the perfect compliment to the current world wide DKT-MC5 tour, essentially showing Davis, Kramer and Thompson warming up for bigger and better things. Although the business of music is ultimately business, and not music, perhaps the true value of Sonic Revolution comes by way of providing documentation of several key players and their exploits in the ongoing MC5 saga.
Ignore the controversy surrounding the DVD, and enjoy it simply for what it is; a thumbnail sketch of a historically significant band and the furtherance of its legacy by the three surviving members; nothing more, nothing less.