The Palace, Melbourne
23 July 2004
By PATRICK EMERY
Like so many other MC5 fans, I had been waiting in eager anticipation for this gig since it was announced. Not even the ideological disappointment of the Levis sponsored show in London could diminish my enthusiasm. MC5 recordings were on high rotation in the lead-up to the gig, and I successfully taught my 3 year old daughter to say 'Kick Out the Jams, Brothers and Sisters' (the uncensored version can wait a few years yet), and my 10-month-old son some air guitar moves. The fact that I'd had three wisdom teeth removed earlier in the week didn't put a dampener on expectations.
The evening began with a ceremonial drink in the front bar of the Esplanade Hotel to pay tribute to the recently-departed Arthur Kane, and to remember Tim Hemensley (a big MC5 fan) on the first anniversary of his unfortunate departure from our rock'n'roll world.
The Palace is a good venue to see a band, though still charges like a wounded bull for green tubes. We missed the first opening act (Specimens), but managed to catch all of Young Heart Attack. I admit to little prior knowledge of Young Heart Attack, but was (all cliches aside) blown away. Maybe it was just the enormity of the occasion that sucked me in, but this seemed like 40 minutes of high adrenalin rock excitement.
The duelling male-female vocals (which kept reminding me of Meatloaf and Martha Whatshername), and the Choreographed Rock Moves 101 performance from the lead guitarist (everything from high kicks, to trading licks to throwing the guitar in the air) kept me enthralled. We were left with a montage of Peter Frampton mixed with Robert Plant with a hint of an Ian Hunter wash, playing against Debbie Harry tinged with Sharon O'Neill. I would like to have seen a full show, but alas was unable to see them during the rest of their Melbourne visit. That all said, some other people I spoke (whose appreciation of rock'n'roll is without question) dismissed the set as "too much of the one thing". So take your pick.
MC3/5 came on around 11.30pm, with little fanfare (in my most paranoid moments, I'd wondered if they'd try and recruit a 21st century JC Crawford impersonator, which would've destroyed the credibility of the show in a single moment), before launching into Ramblin' Rose. This was a much more laid back, jazz tinged version than the brutal live version. I will admit to being disappointed, maybe 'cause I was expecting to be taken back to the Grande Ballroom in 1968. But this wasn't a Fantasy Island sponsored reunion gig – it was a celebration of the music.
Wayne Kramer looked miles away from the afro-ed Detroit hood of the late 1960s. These days he could almost pass for the cop who busted him for drugs in the 1970s. But he was obviously happy to be here, and his pouting and posturing showed he retains a sense of performance. Dennis Thompson's drumming still fires like a Baghdad street battle, and his Detroit shop rat attitude permeates the band's on-stage sound. On stage right, Deniz Tek – taking on the unfamiliar role of rhythm guitarist – achieved nothing less than pristine perfection (doing yet more justice to Fred Smith's aged Epiphone).
Michael Davis assumed vocal duties for "I Can Only Give You Everything", still one of the definitive 1960s garage tracks (see the Pebbles version for confirmation). Davis' voice was a bit strained, but the band (including his own bass playing) carried it through. Anyone who's seen "A True Testimonial" will testify to the significance of actually seeing Mike Davis play.
Mark Arm and Evan Dando then joined the band for "Sister Ann". This is where the show took off. Arm is rarely spoken of in the same glorified tones as Kurt Cobain, Frank Black or Thurston Moore. But he has such an understated, unpretentious punk rock kool that he is a walk in entrant for the Punk Rock Star Hall of Fame. His harmonica solo in "Sister Ann" drew roars from the crowd, which were regularly repeated throughout the show.
Evan Dando's performances during the North American leg of the tour have been roundly criticised. Maybe it's his love of Australia, but tonight he showed none of that. From underneath his Prince Valiant haircut (allowing him to read the carefully disguised lyric sheet), Dando's soft vocals perfectly suited the more melodic tunes like "Shakin' Street" and "Teenage Lust".
Punctuated through the show was some great jazz augmentation from two young guys in brown t-shirts. Maybe I was misty-eyed with excitement, but I could've sworn the trumpet player was cloned from a teenage Rob Tyner.
The set list was taken from across the three albums. A personal highlight was Mark Arm's chop, chop, chopping in "Human Being Lawnmower", followed (closely) by Arm's crowd wander during "I Want You Right Now". Kramer sauntered up to the microphone and invited us to "Kick Out the Jams" (Mother Fucker), which we all duly did, with much exuberance.
For the first encore the band was joined by Marshall Crenshaw for covers of Ray Charles' "I Believe to My Soul" and Sun Ra's cosmic flavoured "Starship". The band returned for a second encore of Sonic Reducer No.62 (with Kramer channelling Paul Stanley for an amusing audience round), before finishing with American Ruse.
After the show many of us queued to buy live CDs of the show (which unfortunately didn't include the second encore set), and then hung around longer to get autographs. Compared to the angry young men of the 1960s, Davis, Thompson and Kramer were pleasant, approachable and pleased to be on a journey of celebration, not revolution. After tonight's show, it's clear there is plenty to celebrate.