Posted August 24, 2004

The Barman's Rant
Occasional thoughts on Real Rock Action


Controversy follows the MC5 like night follows day. If you have any sense of history, and have casually browsed these columns, you’ll know what I mean.

First, it was the sponsorship (by a clothing manufacturer) of a reunion gig at London’s 100 Club: aka Kick Out the Jeans. Water under the bridge.

Declaration: Of course I was one of the detractors - although it wasn’t so much the sponsorship as the closed nature of the show that got my goat. In short, I didn’t want it to be a one-off, staged for a sponsor’s employees. I give credence to Wayne Kramer’s comment that circumstances forced his hand; I just feel putting that message out there among the fans earlier might have headed off much of the firestorm. Anyway, I’m pretty chuffed that it’s turned into something much more sustainable.

Next, it was Brother Wayne’s blocking (by way of musical rights refusal) of the release of the very excellent independent rock-doco, “The MC5: A True Testimonial”, for reasons that only became apparent after an initial flurry of bad publicity.

Another declaration: I feel for the filmmakers, Dave Thomas and Laurel Legler, two fans who sunk years of their own sweat and dollars into a project that’s not going to make anyone big cash. Nice people who invited me into their home. No need to go into it chapter and verse, least of all for legal reasons (and there are actually more than two sides to this one). My fervent wish is that a mediator be brought in and the dispute is settled so you can all see the best rockumentary made.

Now, with a world tour started (under the banner DKT-MC5, involving core band members Wayne Kramer, Dennis Thompson and Michael Davis with a rotating cast of extras), another controversy flares, albeit a much more subjective one.

Namely, who should step up and sing for the band?

Two guys are doing the bulk of the vocalising on North American dates. Mark Arm of Mudhoney and Evan Dando, once of the Lemonheads but more lately a solo artist. Marshall Crenshaw is stepping in on second guitar. Crenshaw makes way for Deniz Tek in Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Early reviews of the first few shows were mixed, possibly partly down to impossibly high expectations on the part of audiences and critics alike. Another factor might have been the fact the players were finding their way, still trying to cement a combination. Understandable, really. Still, no-one was actually panning the gigs, just expressing reservations.

Most comments centred on the extra personnel. For every so-so review by a critic, there were half-a-dozen comments to various mailing lists. A couple thought Mark Arm’s vocalising was over the top. Most, however, were bemoaning The Dando Factor.

Evan Dando, by accounts from people who know him, is a sensitive and intense soul. He obviously didn’t help his own case by reading from lyric sheets at the early shows (put that one down to nerves), and his typical onstage manner (dazed and confused) rankled some. I’d also think some of the detractors also remember when he was a music press darling (something none of his bandmates can ever claim to have been).

Such criticism, delivered in person, must have stung - and maybe was compounded - when he responded to taunts by joining a chant of “Fuck Dando” in Detroit and by wrestling with a punter, in New York City. Not a good look.

Paragons of fairness that we are, we’ve unconsciously managed a balancing act in our coverage so far. You’ll find a glowing report, a good ‘un with mild reservations and one that squarely takes aim at Evan Dando.

Third and final declaration:
For what it’s worth, I’ve expressed doubts in various public places that E.D. is the man to Get Up On The Stand. No problems with the Lemonheads on record (yeah, I know they were originally a punk band – so what?) and I never saw them live, but the Five they clearly weren’t. The Dando voice would seem more at home in Indie Pop Land.

Wayne Kramer and Mark Arm in New York last week.
Kitty Kowalski photo

Gotta say that I’ve heard two DKT-MC5 shows so far (Detroit and Chicago), thanks to the wonders of file sharing, and things sounded excellent. The band creaked in parts, played a few songs at a slower pace, but all-in-all, sounded pretty damned good. (“Starship” was stunning, even, and Mr Dando nailed the ballad, “Let Me Try”). But even a good quality audience tape can’t convey presence or the real atmosphere that comes across in the live setting.

The DKT-MC5 camp has taken the occasional brickbat in their stride, saying they’re happy with the way the shows have been going and dismissing the more vociferous criticism. Evan is a valued member of the show, is great fun on the tour bus and will be sticking it out.

All this criticism - good or bad - has to be viewed in context. Rabid fans will always see things with an elevated sense of sensitivity. If something doesn’t measure up to their perception of the way it should be, look out.

We’re both a blessing AND a curse.

Some are more informed than others. Reviewer Destroit Slick actually makes a very valid point. Unless, like him, you were witness to the original Five at their height (a.) you can never know what they were like and (b.) nothing around now can replicate it, anyway.

When you think about it, he was on the same page as Brother Wayne Kramer himself when he made an important contextual statement to the English press last year. He told them: "We are not the MC5. This is not an MC5 show. This is not an MC5 reunion. That would be impossible. It's a celebration of the music of the MC5."

In short, this is not the Five, it’s about the Five. If you want a reunion, too bad. It ain’t going to happen. This is as close as it gets. No-one is actually replacing Fred Smith or Rob Tyner. It’s just not possible.

Let’s have appropriate expectations, kick back and revel in what it is - not what it can’t be.

Wayne Kramer is a dazzling guitarist, lyrical as hell and under-appreciated. Killer tone.

Mike Davis is a better player than in his days in the Five, with extensive road experience in Destroy All Monsters and lesser-known bands in the wilds of the American south-west. They all took him to Europe on numerous tours.

Dennis Thompson has emerged form time-to-time from the day job world in Detroit to keep his hand in as a drummer, most recently guesting with The Sillies. Anyone who saw him with New Race in Australia in 1981 can attest to the explosive power he packs.

That’s all obvious, but don’t discount the songs. Some of us know them better than the National Anthem. (Hell, a couple of them should BE Naitonal Anthems).

Controversy rarely stops tickets selling - so if you see DKT-MC5 coming your way, don’t delay in scoring admission well before the show.

So, yeah, with Evan Dando on board, I’m going to be there, with as few expectations as humanly possible. I’m going to catch, maybe, a fraction of what I missed out on 30 years ago. Or, if I’m lucky, I might detect a goodly chunk.

I’m going to chuckle at the kids – not even alive then – getting off on seeing the show with real rock and roll players and music, and not some pale approximation.

I might even testify.

In short, I’m going to having a fucking good time.

So should you.- The Barman

DKT-MC5 World Tour dates can be found here.