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Concert Reviews:
MC50 hosts at Grande time at Third Man Records

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusicon Twit

Posted: Wednesday, October 31, 2018

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DETROIT -- "This is not how we did it at the Grande Ballroom 50 years ago," Wayne Kramer told a packed house Tuesday night, Oct. 30, at Third Man Records during a break from recording a new version of the MC5's seminal "Kick Out the Jams" album.

But rest assured that nobody minded.

Fifty years to the day the MC5 recorded the first of two nights at the long-closed Grande -- on the self-proclaimed Zenta New Year -- the guitarist and his all-star MC50 band caught the spirit again with a charged two-hour, 16-song set that closed out its three-show Detroit stand as well as the band's North American tour. A fundraiser for Kramer's non-profit Jail Guitar Doors prison music initiative, the show -- which began with a recreation of the "Kick Out the Jams" album, albeit in a slightly altered sequence -- was recorded direct to acetate for expected to come out during February, marking the 50th anniversary of the original album's release.

A film crew also captured the show for an upcoming concert film and documentary, while a crew of artists spent the previous few days clandestinely painting a mural on the Grande building depicting the logo of the White Panther Party which the MC5 affiliated with during the late 60s.

Advertised special guest Don Was did not make it due to logistical reasons, but the MC50 -- featuring members from Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, Fugazi, Faith No More and Zen Guerilla -- was more than potent enough as it ripped through the show with seemingly even more ferocity than it had during previous performances at Saint Andrews Hall and the Fillmore Detroit. It was bolstered again on a trio of songs by the three-piece High Energy Horns -- David McMurray, Allen Dennard and Zach Land -- while Martin "Tino" Gross of the Howling Diablos, who's one of Jail Guitar Doors local teaching artists, sang lead vocals on "Shakin' Street."

"This is an exhilarating moment for me personally," Kramer told the crowd of about 250, which included Detroit Tigers veteran and broadcaster Kirk Gibson, early in the show. "Never in a million years did I think I'd be in Detroit 50 years later recording Kick Out the Jams live -- especially with a wonderful band like this."

Prior to the show, Kramer explained that re-recording "Kick Out the Jams" was borne from dissatisfaction with the original recording, when his guitar "went radically out of tune on the first note of the first song." "My personal interest is to A-B them," Kramer, who paid tribute to the other original members of the MC5 -- three dead while drummer Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson has declined to be part of MC50 -- during Tuesday's show. "I just want to see how the music, how my playing, how the band has evolved, what happens over 50 years. The idea of it, I thought, was intriguing."

He's aware, however, that he's revisiting what some fans consider holy ground. "I adore the (original) record," Kramer said. "It's a cherished artifact of what happened that night and of a time and a place and an era. I get all that and I love all that. But I retain my artistic rights to be dissatisfied."

Kramer, who hails from Lincoln Park, peppered the night with hometown references, noting that told his MC50 bandmates "how we do it in Detroit, we work hard and we play hard." He brought regards from ailing poet John Sinclair, the MC5's original manager, who was unable to attend, and he celebrated the possibility that Michigan might legalize marijuana during next week's elections. "Fifty years ago we started advocating for decriminalized marijuana," he recalled. "I'm so happy to see it coming."

Then he added, "You got 'em? Light 'em up! That would make it really like the Grande Ballroom..." Even without the smoke, however, it was a high time for all who were there.

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