Wayne Kramer’s MC5 kicks off tour with Detroit rock classics

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“Some bands take two years between recordings,” Wayne Kramer told his audience Thursday at El Club. “Some groups take five years. We take 50.

The raucous musical spirit and activist bent of MC5 were the order of the day in the cozy Detroit venue, as Kramer and his new bandmates kicked off the Heavy Lifting Tour, a prelude to a fall album that will be the first since 1971 to bear the MC5 name.

Armed with his red, white and blue Fender Strat, playing for several hundred dedicated fans in his hometown not far from his childhood neighborhood, the 74-year-old guitarist dipped into his former band’s catalog for a set of 16 songs.

Outside the venue, Vernor’s lively up-and-down Cinco de Mayo action added an extra festive touch to the occasion, as The Five’s music was swept along 5/5 in the South West from Detroit.

Kramer was the only original in a 2022 MC5 lineup featuring vocalist Brad Brooks, guitarist Stevie Salas, bassist Vicki Randle and drummer Winston Watson. It was a night that aimed to showcase the jagged edges (“Baby Won’t Ya”), dense raunch ‘n’ roll (“Come Together”) and primal energy (“Call Me Animal”) that were classic MC5 features. But absent was another key trait of the MC5: the wild onstage abandonment that made the original band’s live shows the stuff of Detroit lore.

A backdrop featuring the slogan “WE ARE ALL MC5” hammered home the theme of Kramer’s new venture: a call to action in tumultuous times.

“We have to get to work, brothers and sisters,” Kramer said late in the evening, declaring that democracy is in jeopardy and it’s time to “save this city, save this country, save this planet.”

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The 100-minute set had been introduced by an emcee, later identified by Kramer as the brother of the late MC5 singer Rob Tyner, with the trademark proclamation that it was time to “cut the jams!”

A smiling Kramer arrived with a familiar old set-up intact – spinning and shimmy on stage, pushing his guitar skyward, spinning his licks. Salas periodically linked up with Kramer at center stage to trade solos and conjure storms of twin guitars.

MC5 singer Brad Brooks performs the Heavy Lifting Tour at the El Club in Detroit on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

While the big-throated, sunglasses-wearing Brooks filled the stage with useful frontman charisma, it was very much Kramer’s spotlight, a place to lay down the guitar sizzle on numbers such as “Poison.” , “Future/Now” and a propelling “Looking at You,” which closed the regular set.

The show is also inspired by the three MC5 albums. “Ramblin’ Rose” (with Kramer handing over his falsetto vocal duties to a band member) opened up a setlist that included just one new song, the first full public preview of “Heavy Lifting” from the upcoming album.

“Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa),” complete with a long breakdown, was a reliable highlight, while “Kick Out the Jams” wrapped a three-song encore with a nostalgic punch.

Guitarist Stevie Salas (left) and guitarist Wayne Kramer perform during MC5's Heavy Lifting Tour stop at the El Club in Detroit on Thursday, May 5, 2022.

Despite all the good humor and good vibes, things never hit seventh gear. The show hasn’t always delivered the transcendent transport we got four years ago when Kramer fronted a band dubbed “MC50” in a three-show “Kick Out the Jams” anniversary celebration. in Detroit. And while there’s plenty of tight-but-jagged charm that defines MC5’s musical identity, Thursday lacked the sense of the edge of your seat of potential chaos, a sense that anything could explode as easily as it comes. flourished.

Still, there was an organic feel to Thursday’s opening night proceedings, including a botched start to “Tonight” that caused Kramer to playfully concede “we just (f’d) this royally,” before until the band restarts to find its way to a penetrating groove.

The Heavy Lifting Tour sprint will travel to Pennsylvania and New York for shows this weekend before heading to the West Coast and ending May 15 in San Diego. Kramer’s new MC5 album, produced by Bob Ezrin and slated for release by Ear Music in Germany, is slated for October.

Contact Detroit Free Press Music Writer Brian McCollum: 313-223-4450 or bmccollum@freepress.com.

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