Kick out the jams. That was the motto of the MC5, the Detroit powerhouse that never had a hit single but still influenced so many rock and punk bands -- from the Clash to the White Stripes -- that the term "legends" gets thrown their way.
"Legends? Yeah, that and $3 will get you a cup of coffee at
Kramer has worked on a number of projects in recent years, but the one tugging at him now is the reunion of the MC5, the politically charged group whose first album, 1969's "Kick Out the Jams," was a live record that set a blistering tone few acts have ever matched. The MC5 coined the term "high energy," Kramer says, noting that "whatever we did, we did wholeheartedly."
They burned themselves out after only three years and broke up. Three decades later, the MC5 is back as DKT/MC5; DKT are the last initials of the three surviving members: bassist Michael Davis, Kramer, and drummer Dennis "Machine Gun" Thompson. They're at the Middle East Downstairs Thursday with guests Evan Dando, Marshall Crenshaw, and Mark Arm of Mudhoney.
"We're not selling it as just the MC5, but it's as close as you can get to the MC5 today," says Kramer, noting that two original members have passed away: guitarist Fred "Sonic" Smith (who was married to Patti Smith) and singer Rob Tyner.
"We're going out to celebrate the music of the MC5 for a whole new audience," says Kramer. "How often does it happen that three guys who worked together three decades ago can come back and put the painful past behind them and do something like this?"
It wouldn't have happened at all, Kramer says, had Tyner's widow not inadvertently sold MC5's trademark design to Levi's. The rest of the band questioned the sale, but a compromise was reached and Kramer suggested the band do a gig in London and have Levi's pay for it and film it. That reunion show was held last year with guest singers Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead, Ian Astbury of the Cult, Dave Vanian of the Damned, and Nicke Royale of the Hellacopters. The result is a forthcoming DVD, "Sonic Revolution: A Celebration of the MC5," coming out July 6, and a tour of the United States.
Kramer wants DKT/MC5 to function like "a repertory company or experimental art theater" in which guest singers will come and go. Hence, the guests on the new tour are different from the London gig but share a similar respect for MC5's roots, which included being managed by John Sinclair, the poet/rebel who later was imprisoned for a marijuana offense and given a benefit concert by John Lennon.
Dando, who grew up in the Boston area, might seem the most unexpected guest, but Kramer says, "Evan called me on the phone and started singing MC5 songs. He said, `I have to do this gig. I must do this gig.' "
"I knew I was the guy for the job," Dando says. When I was 14 years old, I was into the Stooges, the Velvet Underground, the Modern Lovers, and the MC5." And he loved some of Tyner's lyrics, notably on "Kick Out the Jams."
"There were some hilarious lyrics," Dando says, "like `I'm starting to sweat, my shirt is all wet, what a feeling.' It was all sung in the moment, which is what the MC5 was about."
Dando says he will sing some of the band's poppier numbers, such as "Shakin' Street," while Mudhoney's Arm will do some of the heavier tracks. Crenshaw, who is often perceived as a pop guru, will concentrate on guitar.
"Some people may not know that Marshall [Crenshaw] can be a brutal guitarist. He can be just wicked," Kramer says. "Also, he's from Detroit originally, so he has a neighborhood connection to this."
The DKT/MC5 now comes to Boston where, at one time, the MC5 were hardly strangers. "We played the Boston Tea Party club and the Ark," says Kramer. "And once we opened at Boston Garden for a new band from England called Led Zeppelin. We always loved Boston."