With touch of serendipity, DKT/MC5 rocks again


June 11, 2004



In August 1968, only one rock band dared to perform against the first Mayor Daley's wishes at the protests outside the Democratic National Convention. When the police moved in, the tear gas rained down, the billy clubs swung and the band paid the price for its convictions, taking its lumps and losing all of its equipment.

The MC5 never did anything the easy way: This was, after all, the group that advocated a revolutionary political agenda -- that of John Sinclair's White Panther Party, which modeled itself on the Black Panthers -- the cornerstone of which was a call for "total assault on the culture by any means necessary, including rock 'n' roll, dope and ----ing in the streets."

Now, more than 35 years after the Motor City Five recorded its debut album "Kick Out the Jams" live at Detroit's Grande Ballroom, three of its key members -- guitarist Wayne Kramer, bassist Michael Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson -- have reunited as the DKT/MC5 and are returning to Chicago to perform under considerably more friendly circumstances tonight at Metro.



  • 11:30 tonight
  • Metro, 3730 N. Clark
  • Tickets, $20 (18-over show)
  • (312) 559-1212
  • The band's inimitable singer, Rob Tyner, died in 1991, and its second guitarist, Fred "Sonic" Smith, died in 1994. In their place, younger acolytes Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Evan Dando of the Lemonheads will fill in on vocals while Detroit native Marshall Crenshaw lends second guitar. But the group has some other surprises in store for fans in Chicago, including its opening act -- none other than Sinclair -- and a guest appearance by the Chicago Horns during what Kramer promises will be a "mind-blowing" rendition of Sun Ra's "Starship," which the group covered on its debut.

    I spoke to Kramer last week just before the start of the American tour, the day after he returned from Germany, where he performed with the Chicago musicians at a jazz festival.

    Q. I guess the big question fans have is, "Why now? What has brought three members of the MC5 back together playing this music at this point in time?"

    A. I don't know if "miracle" is the right word. What's a word that describes something completely unprepared for and unplanned? "Serendipity" is another good word. I had no grand vision or scheme or plot, and none of us did. It was a sequence of events that started off as something that could have been a problem, and it has just grown into a really exciting opportunity.

    Q. By problem, do you mean the fight with Chicago filmmakers Dave Thomas and Laurel Legler over the movie, "MC5: A True Testimonial"?

    A. No, there was a problem with Levi's, which had inadvertently licensed the MC5 logo [for designer T-shirts], and what could have been a problem -- a small but messy problem -- we found a way to turn lemons into lemonade. They were very open-minded about the idea of, "Let's do a whole show and celebrate the music of the MC5," and that seemed to go amazingly well. They paid for it.

    Q. It's ironic that when the band was almost destroyed the first time by corporate America -- I'm thinking of the MC5's infamous battle with the Dayton Hudson department-store chain -- that this time, it was brought together by the same forces!

    A. The corporate world has caught up to rock 'n' roll, and rock 'n' roll has now been around for a while. We've all grown up with it, and it has taken a place in the culture of legitimacy. So we were able to parlay that into a performance and a concert DVD, and then we thought, "Well, that went kind of well; maybe we could do three gigs." Realistically, that's what I thought. I was pretty sure we could get a job in Detroit; we might be able to get a job in Chicago, and maybe in New York. When we asked an agent to see about the possibilities, he came back with a flood of requests, an avalanche of people that want to hear the music of the MC5 played live by the surviving guys and some of our friends that also have a connection to this music.

    Q. It's an impressive cast of characters who are lending a hand.

    A. It's a ball. The whole thing is a great kick in the pants. It seems to be an enduring influence: If you look at how many bands have come and gone in the last 30 years, the message of the MC5 -- what the MC5 represents -- remains current. In today's climate, it's really appropriate.

    Q. Wayne, we've talked many times over the years, and one of the most encouraging things for me about your career is that you've refused to live in the past -- you keep moving forward musically. Is it weird now to go back to the '60s? Does it feel nostalgic?

    A. I have been more than a casual observer of people who were in bands that achieved something at a point in the past and then didn't ride off into the sunset. You find that you spent the first part of your life learning how to do something, and you want to continue to practice that skill, that craft, that art, that science. The validation of it comes when people want to hear the music -- especially people that are my age, 35 to 55, they still want to rock, but there just isn't much coming down the pipeline for them. The music that's mass-marketed is aimed at adolescents.

    The other day at rehearsal, we were playing one of the tunes, I forget which one, and I've played a lot of music over the last 30 years, but all of the sudden I said, "Man, this s--- sounds ----ing great!" It was like real guitar rock; you couldn't deny that this was like pure kryptonite. You hit those moments. If you're lucky and if you work hard, you get those peak moments.

    Q. When you came into Chicago and played in Grant Park in 1968, you were public enemy No. 1, and you left with bruises and welts and all of your gear trashed. When you come into Chicago in 2004, you have the endorsement of corporate America, the media cheering, and people greeting you as heroes. Is something missing without that element of danger? I mean, the MC5 used to be scary. Now you guys are just cool.

    A. Hmmm ... well, you're almost there. This band is not the MC5; we've gone to great lengths and had extended difficulties with promoters who insist on promoting this as the MC5, but this is DKT/MC5. It can't be the MC5 because there's no Rob Tyner and no Fred Smith today; they've both died, and it's an insult to the fans and it's certainly an insult to their memory to attempt to sell it as the MC5. But you know, it is Davis, Kramer and Thompson, and this is as close as you're gonna get to the MC5, and it's a celebration of the songs. In the end, all of these bands are about the songs. We're approaching this as like a repertory company, using the songs as the template, and participating in the spirit of the MC5 in the art of performance. We're gonna play some real music, no click tracks, no auto-tuning, and we're not doing this with the support of a record company. We don't have a big publicity campaign behind us, or the blessing of MTV. This is simply a band and some music playing for people that care about this music. So in a way, it's still subversive.

    Can a rock band matter today like rock music mattered in the '60s? I don't know. Has my sense of fighting for justice over injustice changed? Not one iota; it's stronger than ever. And to sing a song about the American ruse today resonates as powerfully as it did 30 years ago. We're in another way led by another complete idiot and we're going into an election year; democracy demands participation, and it demands that if you care, you have to say, "Not in my name!"


    Squabble has release of MC5 film on hold

    Chicago filmmakers Dave Thomas and Laurel Legler spent seven years working on their labor of love, the vibrant and compelling documentary/ love letter "MC5: A True Testimonial." But a much-publicized battle with guitarist Wayne Kramer has blocked the film from national release, and unless things are resolved, it stands poised to join Robert Franks' infamous Rolling Stones film "----sucker Blues" as one of the best rock movies that no one's ever seen.

    The arguments on both sides are complex and passionate, but the shorthand synopsis is that director Thomas and producer Legler made a huge mistake at the start of the project by agreeing to make Kramer a business partner (a foolish move for any documentarian, since it flies in the face of journalistic standards), and Kramer doesn't like the way they've done business.

    Kramer says the filmmakers are trying to rip him off; the filmmakers say Kramer is trying to shake them down. Right now, without Kramer giving the OK to the band's publishing company, Thomas and Legler can't get the rights to the MC5's music. There is no movie without the music, and things seem to be at a stalemate.

    "It's not up to me to fix it," says Kramer (who maintains that he loves the film itself). "It's not an 'M.P.' -- my problem -- it's a 'T.P.' -- their problem.

    "They made a deal, and then they went back on their word. I have a hundred options of ways that it could be fixed, but it's not for me to fix, it's for them to fix."

    Says Thomas: "People will get to see this movie eventually; we didn't spend seven years to roll over because there were some legal problems. I don't really think that it's Wayne that we have to work it out with, it's actually Warner Music [the MC5's former record company] and Warner-Chappell [its publishing company].

    "Warner-Chappell is where the blockage is, and it still hasn't been determined if Wayne even has any rights to the music."

    Jim DeRogatis