Concert Report: The MC-5

Tuesday 6, May 1969 *Ungano's*, NYC


By Fred Kirby (Billboard 5/17/1969)

    NEW YORK - Ungano's vibrated with excitement and sound on Tuesday (6) as the MC5 opened a three - night stand. The Detroit quintet overpowered its material to the delight of the large audience. Rhythms were strong; the sound was powerful. They're clearly one of the most exciting acts around.
    Also on the bill were the Churls ...
    ...MC5 started strong with "Tutti Frutti" and never let up. Rob Tyner must be one of the wildest lead vocalists around as he sang, shouted and conducted. This last seemed especially appropriate since many of the arrangements, besides emphatic beats, had sharp breaks, an effective device when used as well as this dynamic unit used them.
    Tyner wasn't alone in projecting excitement. In Fred (Sonic) Smith, who usually took lead guitar, the MC5 has a member who not only plays well, but is an exciting performer to watch. Wayne Kramer, who played both rhythm and lead guitar, also moves, while drummer Dennis Thompson is a solid performer as is bass guitarist Michael Davis.
    Tyner's clearest vocal was in a defiant "Motor City Is Burning," which included some fine work by Smith. "Rocket Reducer No.62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)," also from the quintet's debut album on Elektra, was an example of voices used to accent the sound.
    "Call Me Animal," with its strong sound was billed as being the group's new album. It was recorded by MC5 for Elektra before the group and record company parted. "The Human Being Lawnmower" had an interesting, choppy arrangement, which also used volume of sound effectively.
    The MC5's big and controversial hit, "Kick Out The Jams," was an exciting climax to the set, which actually ended with a nameless boogie-woogie jam.


By Hubert Saal (Newsweek, 5/19/1969)

    It's mind-blowing, earsplitting, stomach-churning. The souped-up music of the MC5 (MC for Motor City) starts off in high and never throttles down. Until recently, pop music from Detroit was all Motown, the slick manufactured charm symbolized by the Supremes. But up from the underground has come a real Detroit sound, pulsating with the belch of its smokestacks and the beat of its machinery. Some of the new groups are the Amboy Dukes, the Psychedelic Stooges, SRC and UP. Last week, the leader of the pack, the MC5, was playing an infrequent out-of-town date, at New York's Ungano's.

    It's a driving music that has in it the dirt and factory pulse and scream of rubber turning corners at full speed. The unmuffled engines of the MC5 spare neither audience nor musicians, who exercise an uncanny control over their electrifying, abandoned ferocity. They steam with sweat, they leap and stretch and spin as they play and sing. They even carry along a sort of flight engineer who adjusts their electronic amplifiers, hands out towels, passes around a water bucket and replaces frenetic drummer Dennis Thompson's sticks as he breaks them - ten, fifteen, twenty a set.
    The battering ram of a revolution is how the MC5 think of themselves. "Call Me Animal," chants lead singer Rob Tyner, a plumpish blob of wild-haired libido. And the band makes happy pig noises as Tyner throws a handy "groupie" to the floor and exuberantly pretends to rape her. They play and chant with relish "Motor City Is Burning" and regard society as "The Human Being Lawnmower (Chop-Chop-Chop-Chop-Chop)" as they chant the litany or point the necks of their guitars at the audience like bayonets or machine guns.
    Profane: To these kids - 25-year-old bass guitarist Michael Davis is the oldest - the Revolution is happening. "There's two cultures today," says lead guitarist Wayne Kramer, who wears a Continental Army uniform and paints his guitar with stars and stripes. "There's the adult honky culture - Frank Sinatra, Democrats and Republicans. And there's the Alternative Culture - the Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the underground." "It's a revolution against cultural repression," adds guitarist Fred Smith. "What's obscenity?" asks Davis. "Four-letter words? Making love? What's obscene are city streets, dead fish, pollution of air and water. And war. Honky culture is death culture." The group's use of profane language on one version of their Elektra LP, "Kick Out The Jams," which has sold more than 100,000 copies, and in an advertisement in an Ann Arbor, Mich., newspaper were apparently the reasons why Elektra recently fired them, citing "unprofessional conduct." However, it looks as if they will soon sign with Atlantic Records.
    All except Davis come from Lincoln Park, "the other side of the tracks" from rich Grosse Pointe. That's where they met, schooled together, learned to make music together. "After high school, in Lincoln Park," says Smith, "you can go to college, which you can't afford, or the Army or the factory. You end up working all year in a loveless job to have two weeks' vacation a year." Smith's father works in a factory; Kramer's is a truck-driver; Davis's has worked for Ford for 30 years. He himself once worked in a steel mill, and Dennis Thompson used to work in a tool-and-die shop.
    Impulses: Despite the show of violence, the MC5 is a likable group, not only talented and personable, but concerned and peace-loving, driven genuinely by inchoate but profoundly felt impulses. "We want the rebirth of the natural, righteous, self," says Thompson. "It's a young planet, " says Tyner. "We're just getting out of the caves. What we try to say in our music is: Come out, have the whole planet, not just the room with the TV set." To the MC5, their music "tries to create an atmosphere for change." "We found out that when you played super-loud and super-fast, it made you feel pure and happy," says Tyner. "It makes you feel better today," says Davis. "It makes you feel even better tomorrow," says Smith.