(The MC5 returned to Detroit, at the Eastown Theater January 9 -10, for their first appearance of 1970, with a drastically changed stage show and performance. It was radically different even from their last previous local appearance with Led Zeppelin in November. The Eastown was damaged by a fire Friday night, cutting the Five's set short. Saturday they moved to their old stomping grounds, the Grande Ballroom and played a set that surprised a great many of us and disappointed not a few. What follows are some impressions of that set by a formerly diehard MC5 fan. -Ed.)
"Call Me Animal" - a touch of irony on the new MC5 album. What's become of the animalism in the Five? If they call themselves animals, they are the most sophisticated pack ever to stampede across a stage that I've seen.
Gone are the days when the audience would sweat along with the Five. When Tyner's gyrations would warm the hearts and pants of all the sweet young innocents in the audience. When the right on revolutionary raps would bring to the surface all of the repression that kids felt five days a week in school and when they got home. They sang about Teenage Lust and were one of the healthiest outlets ever to hit the stage.
Their music has changed. Their stage show has changed. Their equipment has changed. All of this leads me to believe that their heads must have undergone some incredible changes.
Musical changes in any group are the only alternative to stagnation. But, in music, changes and progression should by synonymous. The Five's changes indicate a certain amount of progression. The have tightened up and gained a degree of polish. The material that they have to display their ability as musicians is also a display of their regression as writers. Their tunes have gone from the progressive and sophisticated masterpiece of Black To Comm to the sticky, bubble-gum tune of "Tonight". "Tonight" is not a bogue song - for Tommy James and The Shondells.
Lyrically, they express only apathy; avoiding the controversy of politics, and the gutsy and earthy aspect of sex. How can one compare "I'll Try" to "I Want You"? It's like a lion turning into a lamb; it's like they reached puberty and went backwards.
When the Beatles still wanted to hold hands, the Five were flaunting their "Ramblin' Rose". Now the Beatles are coming together and the Five are whining about trying to get someplace.
From the fall of '68 to the spring of '69, they were undoubtedly at their peak of popularity in this area. Their stage show was renowned for its bizarreness and constant innovation. The Ballroom was jammed with kids who came specifically to see the Five, even when they shared the bill with people like Cream. Before their set began, hundreds of people would wander aimlessly around the Grande. When Dave Miller finally announced that they were coming on, there would be a pressing thrust forward. Everyone wanted to get into the act, and everyone could. The Five were the people; they were one of us. They were so free. Free with themselves, free with their stardom. Never too famous to say hi to someone in the audience from the stage. Never too famous to bitch if they were brought down by the repression of the honko/plastic culture. Never too wrapped up in their own stardom to put on an act, to be sure they were liked - because they were - for themselves and what they gave to the people.
The vibes were good. There was a constant energy flow between the audience and the band, each one giving to the other.
At the Eastown a few weeks ago, there was no sweating throng. There was no rapport between performers and audience. I guess they have outgrown us. Too good for us, maybe? The people were giving, but the Five were not responding. No rap from Tyner. Kramer, yes Wayne Kramer, was for the most part dull, and gave an impression of boredom with the entire ruse. Yes, it was a ruse.
The night they recorded Kick Out The Jams, I told a friend that I thought the Five weren't part of the people any more.
On this same night, I was in the truck where the engineers from Elektra were recording. They said that the Five was the loudest band they had ever heard. In 1968 they were loud. It took their equipment dudes about 45 minutes to set up all of their equipment. The intensity of the volume was effective. You didn't listen, you felt -- every vibration that Kramer sent out from his red, white and blue guitar, and every frustrated groan and satisfied moan that Tyner sent through the mike.
The truckload of equipment has been replaced by a minimal amount of amplifiers. Their sound system is clearer, but was it necessary to reduce their power to 10% of what it was? The end result is total low energy.
The band that initiated the term "high energy" into the rhetoric has abandoned their own innovation. They must look upon this as some sort of progression. Judging from audience reaction, they are the only ones who see it this way.
The people's band has, without a doubt, abandoned the people for a more profitable alternative. It's green and it crinkles.