50 Years Of Relevancy: MC50 At The Teragram Ballroom

50 Years Of Relevancy: MC50 At The Teragram Ballroom

Words by Matthew Hutchison|Photos by Brendon Crigler Photography

The Altamont incident, the notoriety of the Manson Family murders, and the beginning of the Chicago 8 trial are culturally relevant events in 1969 that shaped pockets of American history and our culture’s psyche. The same occurs in February 1969 via an LP release recorded across two prior October nights at Detroit’s Grande Ballroom. We’re talking about the Kick Out The Jams LP by the MC5, surely you’ve heard of this album before.

MC50’s Wayne Kramer and Marcus Durant (Zen Guerilla). Photo by Brendon Crigler

How much of an impression did this record leave? Michigan native and punk rock Ayatollah, Tesco Vee, recounts his introduction: 

I was 14 when I first heard Kick Out The Jams on the radio in my dad’s boat. It was one of those seminal musical moments when time stands still. I listened transfixed as that beleaguered AM speaker splattered revolution all over my impressionable cranium. As a Michigan regional radio hit, I always marveled at the audacity (and genius) of releasing such an unhinged live recording as a single. It captured the essence of Detroit as ground zero for rust belt rebellion. Now 50 years later, it still resonates and reverberates as one of the greatest songs ever recorded.

Ya, I said that.” (Tesco Vee – The Meatmen)

MC50’s Marcus Durant (Zen Guerilla). Photo by Brendon Crigler

Fifty years later, that LP still resonates amid today’s atmosphere and youth culture. How did you feel when you first heard Rob Tyner’s famous introductory words to the album’s title track? Were you stoked or antagonized? MC5 are a lot of things: a hard-charging rock n’ roll band, a force, a counter-reaction to the Summer of Love, a vehicle for a political movement, but more so, they are an impact that crosses generations. None is this more evident than the MC50 lineup Wayne Kramer assembles having already wrapped up their second North American run. Each one of these members is influenced Kick Out The Jams LP; it’s evident in each member’s respective music background. 

MC50’s Kim Thayil (Soundgarden). Photo by Brendon Crigler

Listen to the opening bass rumble of Faith No More’s “Falling to Pieces,” the heavy sliding guitar riff of Soundgarden’s “Hands All Over,” the noodling bass lick to Fugazi’s “Waiting Room” or the wailing blues-punk riffing of Zen Guerilla’s “Trouble Shake.” Their own respective band’s paths have paralleled the MC5’s grinding undertakings with humble beginnings and varying degrees of mainstream success. Yet their affiliations lie in the underground and the non-commercial.

MC50’s Marcus Durant. Photo by Brendon Crigler

On paper, yes it’s a super group with names like Kim Thayil (Soundgarden), Billy Gould (Faith No More), Brendan Canty (Fugazi), and Marcus Durant (Zen Guerilla) supporting Wayne Kramer’s vision. More importantly given each member’s background, this is a super group with a strong correlation to each other and one of substance. They’re perfect for an undertaking like the MC50.

MC50’s Kim Thayil. Photo by Brendon Crigler

MC50 began Act II of their North American run at The Teragram Ballroom in Downtown Los Angeles on a warm Tuesday evening. Around 8:10 p.m. the bright red haze glowing across the sky, the dusk becomes evening and outlines 7th Street’s electrical poles and surrounding buildings. 

Porcupine featuring Greg Norton (Husker Du). Photo by Brendon Crigler

Walking into the venue, the opening group Porcupine is already playing. This group is here on an invitation to open from the MC50 camp for a fly-in date. They’ve been under the radar for some time and lately received a boost for their profile with the inclusion of Husker Du co-founder, Greg Norton, to the fold.

Their 30-minute set comprises of material off their two LPs, and the recently released 90s rock-influenced What You’ve Heard Isn’t Real EP. Live they mix a sound that has the free-form of The Minutemen with the full blast hard rock sound of late 2000s-era Dinosaur Jr.  

MC50’s Wayne Kramer and Billy Gould (Faith No More). Photo by Brendon Crigler

The room fills out at this point and at around 9:00 p.m., the familiar voice of MC5 affiliate J.C. Crawford echoes over the PA as the MC50 appear from stage right to take their posts. Kramer, American flag painted Stratocaster in hand, heads to the center stage and upon Crawford’s conclusion, erupts into the opening riff of “Rambling Rose.” Kramer’s voice at 71 isn’t the same as his 19-year-old self on the debut LP, but salad days aside, he commands your attention with his growl.

MC50’s Marcus Durant and Kim Thayil. Photo by Brendon Crigler

When the band concludes the number, the towering pillar named Marcus Durant; donning all black with shades and his trademark afro in full effect takes center stage. Kramer then moves two spots to his left occupying stage right and Durant, standing under burning white par cans, proclaims with great fury the same opening lines Tyner screamed that sparked the feud between the band, Elektra Records management and Detroit department store, Hudson’s. It is at this point; the MC50 is now at full throttle, look out!

MC50 supergroup: Brendan Canty (Fugazi), Marcus Durant (Zen Guerilla) and Kim Thayil (Soundgarden). Photo by Brendon Crigler

Looking across the crowd during this number, the mix of Millenials, Gen X’ers, and Boomers is enough proof why this band’s legacy maintains its relevance from the analog era well into the digital era. Age aside, these guys don’t show their own one bit as they stomp, sway, and cut through the audience with a 16-song set crossing the MC5 catalog. 

MC50 supergroup: Billy Gould (Faith No More), Wayne Kramer (MC5), Marcus Durant (Zen Guerilla). Photo by Brendon Crigler

Kramer is the boss here and grabs your attention first and foremost with his assertiveness that includes windmills and spins during the hour plus high-energy set.  Thayil is the second most recognizable face on the stage and provides steady rhythm support for Kramer throughout. Thayil is quoted in a recent Billboard interview the MC5 are his favorite bands and was unsure at first to undertake this opportunity.

Kim Thayil. Photo by Brendon Crigler

From how he looks up there, he made the right decision to accept Kramer’s offer and won’t be a surprise to anyone if this tour has been a coping mechanism and means of support professionally and personally for Thayil since the tragic suicide of Chris Cornell in 2017.

Billy Gould (Faith No More) and Brendan Canty (Fugazi). Photo by Brendon Crigler

Gould, standing in the background behind Kramer is obviously staying out of the spotlight, but it’s a failing attempt with how much he loses himself to rocking out while going all over his fret board on “Borderline,” “Rocket Reducer No. 62,” “Motor City Is Burning,” “Come Together,” and others. Brendon Canty holds down the drum position on point amidst the hard-charging riffs and raw energy on this stage.

Marcus Durant . Photo by Brendon Crigler

Upon conclusion and encore, the band has already gone through 12 songs of exhausting material but returns to the stage to deliver more. Durant’s voice STILL hits that range he exhibits on every Zen Guerilla LP. During the encore, he owns “Sister Anne” with the impression that it’s a song that was written with the intention for him to sing.

MC5’s Wayne Kramer. Photo by Brendon Crigler

Setting up the finale of the evening, Kramer gives his two cents on the current political climate shaping America and addresses his feelings about the matter:  “I never wish for anyone to experience a prison cell.” “However, there’s one person I’ll exclude from that is the current President of the United States cause that’s an experience he should have.” The crowd approving his sentiment gives a final cheer as the riff of the 1968 single “Looking At You” fills the room.

Marcus Durant. Photo by Brendon Crigler

As the band runs through the intro, Durant removes his shades and casts a gaze upon the room as if he’s searching for some profound meaning in everyone here. In this state of transfixion, Durant runs through the song with the soul stoking wail he’s very well known for as the band matches his relentless energy note for note until the last chord hits.  

Kim Thayil. Photo by Brendon Crigler

Punks on a meth power trip” is how Kramer identifies this lineup and their upcoming tour. Powerful words but with that guy’s history, damn accurate description. As heavy hitting as his men are, everyone on that stage knows it’s Kramer’s show. They show the Detroit icon the utmost respect and follow his lead while nailing each song with the same urgency the original lineup displayed across two October nights in 1968.

Marcus Durant. Photo by Brendon Crigler

MC50 isn’t a group coming together to make a legacy relevant; MC5 has always maintained relevance with their high-energy rock and action-oriented forward thinking. Kramer’s legacy and work go beyond the music and into real-life impacts on the political and socioeconomic circles of American culture.

Kim Thayil. Photo by Brendon Crigler

This man has lived through hard times and is actively giving back to people going through the same in the prison system. Look up Jail Guitar Doors for info on that.

Musically, Kramer’s work has influenced groups as local as The Shrine to as far as The Hellacopters; and it will persevere further down the line. Count on that.

Wayne Kramer. Photo by Brendon Crigler

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MC50. Photo by Brendon Crigler

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