On Saturday afternoon, I went to see the both the Sun Ra Arkestra and the survivors of the MC5 play Central Park's summerstage. As the show's curator, an enthusiastic and sequined DJ Spooky put it, "it's all jazz and rock and, it's fucking mix culture, man!" He was not a wordsmith, but he was happy. The Sun Ra Arkestra, despite the loss of interstellar traveller, Sun Ra, gleamed in their wild outfits and kept everyone in a good mood and looking for space ships. I went to get some water because the sun was mighty hot, and who did I see in the next line over, but Thurston Moore, tapping his toe, holding a beer, and chatting with some young punk.
As for the MC5...Are you surprised to hear that the show rocked? A lot of naysayers have been out there, disparaging the reunion of the vets as a big "sell out" for a mess of Levi jeans money. Not knowing any of this, but having enjoyed my MC5 records plenty, I was happy to get a chance to hear live this legendary band. The big heavy old-school rock and roll was energizing. I was grinning. I was banging my head like my girlfriend and I used to do when we went to shows at the Cat's Cradle in Chapel Hill. There were a couple of couples near me who looked like they just hopped out of their SDS reunion photo to kick out the jams. There was a guy in orange and purple and with gray hair who flung every limb in every direction.
Not content to simply enjoy the show, which featured vocalists Mark Arm of Mudhoney, Handsome Dick Manitoba, of the Bronx, and Lisa Kekaula of the Bellrays, I had to do a little research and read about all the things past, including the sweet story of the romance of Fred "sonic" Smith, and Patti Smith, and now going on with the reconstituted revolutionary rockers. Supposedly, a video is coming out, and a documentary has been made, and its home-page has links to a lot of articles about the come-back tour. Here's a nice discussion of the MC5 from a true fan.
The same site will tell you about a controversy between the current band and the surving family of Rob Tyner, the unforgettable lead vocalist who died in 1991.Apparently, Patti and Fred's son, Jackson is also upset with the reunion tour, and with the fact that his father and Rob Tyner are not mentioned on the band's web-page. Interestingly, if you click "DVD" on that page, you'll see a "celebration" of the MC5, but not the film "A True Testimonial" which did come out to rave reviews, but which Wayne Kramer tried to block at some point. oh sigh.
Regardless of all the bitterness involved in the story of a band whose manager, at least, had great ambitions for them (John Sinclair of the "White Panthers" wanted them to be "bigger than Mao") they still had some revolutionary spirit when I saw them, and they finished off their show with the Sun Ra Arkestra. I liked the way they involved guest vocalists, and the music was hard not to love. And politics? Well, they talked about the war while they were on stage, which is a lot more than I can say for some other bands that I've seen since 2001.