By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
I get the guitar tuned back up before anyone's the wiser, and we segue right into "Right now it's time to . . ." Everyone knows what's coming. "Right now it's time to . . .!" And when Rob Tyner screams "KICK OUT THE JAMS, MUTHERFUCKERS!" the whole place explodes. This is it. We are doing what we do best right now. I look over to my left and see Fred "Sonic" Smith, in his custom-made lime-green suit, arms flailing, jaw set in mad-dog-from-hell fury. Back at the drums, Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson is steaming with the demon behind his double kit like a mutation of Elvin Jones and Keith Moon in hyperdrive. On bass, Michael Davis - in a sequined "Uncle Sam" red-white-and-blue matching vest, shirt and trousers - stands solid, legs spread for balance. Out in front, Rob Tyner, the singularly most compelling lead singer in the world of rock, is working it. There never was a singer like Rob Tyner, and there never will be. He is sweating, screaming, dancing like a man possessed by forces you don't even want to know about. I'm watching all this and I realize, at that moment, that I'm a part of the best band in the world.
I look out into the Grande and see the outline of the crowd against the lights shining on us. The stage is all cluttered with the extra cables and microphones from Wally Hider's mobile recording truck that's down in the alley behind the ballroom. This is causing a lot of tripping and fancy footwork up on the stage. The lights are brighter than I ever remember them being, and the heat up onstage feels like August, not October. We truly are kicking out the jams now. We play the song with a zeal that lifts the crowd to a new level. "Jams" dovetails into "Come Together," the third song in the set. We build through the tune, but there's a snag at the end and we hit a few clams on the final chords. We ignore that and work through to "Rocket Reducer No. 62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)," which has a great coda where Fred and I get to stretch out on our guitars. Then it's "Borderline," "Motor City Is Burning" and "I Want You Right Now." We're so full of the raw energy of the moment that we have plenty of reserve power to propel us through to the piece de resistance: "Starship."
The hometown fans know this part of our ritual noise fest. They know that, at the end of an MC5 concert, some truly strange music will be played, and they love it. Rob leads the piece with his exhortation, "A song called 'Starship' . . . A song called 'Starship' . . .," and Dennis begins the drumbeat. Now we take what otherwise has been a perfectly fine rock concert and launch the whole goddamn crowd out of Earth's atmosphere.
Rob spits out the lyrics and sets the pace, the countdown to liftoff. The guitars start winding up like a giant vacuum cleaner, and the rhythm section abandons any semblance of time. We're going beyond the pull of gravity, way beyond beats, or keys, out, out, into space. Way past the trials and troubles of this world. To a new place. To the universe of one of our great teachers and mentors, Sun Ra. Like he showed us. The light show is peaking. They've pulled out all the stops, and the ballroom is awash in bright colors. Rob is singing a tone poem of space and the vistas of vistas. The bass and drums are powering the starship, and the tools formerly known as electric guitars are signaling and probing other planets and star systems. And we're all navigating through the nothingness. We've reached the purity of a new sonic dimension, and the whole crowd is right there with us.
Then it's re-entry. Building speed slowly at first, then accelerating, and then unifying into a single force that returns us to the atmosphere. Then to the surface of the planet, and down to this beautiful old ballroom in the city of Detroit on Halloween night, 1968, to the Grande stage and the recording concert. The fans are all cheering and the amplifiers are droning out into the cosmos and the feedback cycles out into the void and the voyage comes to an exhausted but fulfilled ending. Everyone is drenched in sweat. We all leave the stage and fall, gasping, down the three stairs into the dressing room with a delicious sense of accomplishment. Yeah, we bad. We super bad. Out in the ballroom, the crowd is berserk. They won't stop cheering, but tonight, the MC5's performance has ended. There are no encores. How would we top that?
Backstage it's like we won the World Series, the Super Bowl and the lottery, but better. All our friends, wives, girlfriends, the whole extended family flood the room. It's pure and sweet. This is our world and we made it happen, and we are loved and appreciated by all. We are doing righteous work and we cannot be stopped.
That night, the MC5 were the standard-bearers for a generation of alienated youth. We took it to the stage, live. Right there. Right then. With total power, and in total control. It couldn't get any better. And it didn't. But on that night - 30 years ago this Halloween - the future was blindingly bright, and everyone who was anyone was part of it. The view from the stage was a moment frozen in time forever for me, an instant when all the dreams of my youth and my generation were real.
Wayne Kramer appears at the Mint on Friday, November 6.
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