A blistering half-hour of MC5 live insanity from German TV.
By 1972, the revolutionary rock band the MC5 were past their prime – a couple of commercially unsuccessful albums and a slow breakup as members left saw the band reduced to a shadow of their former selves, and by the end of the year, they were no more. But earlier that year, the band had toured Europe, playing in England on the same bill as Syd Barrett’s short-lived band Stars, and heading to Germany where they recorded a performance for German TV show Beat Club.
The Beat Club show was a live in-studio performance with no audience – fans of early Seventies rock will be familiar with the format, as many of these performances would appear on late night British TV during the 1980s – everyone from Genesis and Van Der Graaf Generator to Black Sabbath appeared against wild, tripped out backdrops that had been inserted behind the original blue-screen shot footage. These performances are often the only live visual material available of bands from the era, and as such are invaluable historical records. Such is the case with the MC5, who might have been past their best at this point, but could still kick out the jams better than most of their contemporaries.
The MC5 recorded a couple of tracks for weird hippy drug movie Gold while in London – their final studio recordings before a final, disastrous live show at the Grande Ballroom in December – where hardly anyone showed up, and guitarist and bandleader Wayne Kramer left the stage after a few songs, distraught at what had become of his band.
Kramer would go on to serve a two year prison sentence from 1975 on drug charges, where he was unexpected reunited with fired MC5 bassist Michael Davis, also incarcerated for the same reason. Frontman Rob Tyner died in 1991. Guitarist Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith married Patti Smith , and died in 1994. The surviving members – Kramer, Davis and drummer Dennis Thompson – reformed in 2003, performing shows with various guest members, before recruiting former Dictators frontman Handsome Dick Manitoba as a permanent frontman until the death of Davis in 2012, at which point the band broke up again. In 2018, Kramer toured the MC50 show, as the only original member of the band, again performing with various guests.
The Beat Club show remains a classic performance from one of the great bands of the post hippy/pre metal Sixties, a thunderous and effortlessly cool show well worth a look.
Here’s the original broadcast version of Kick Out the Jams, complete with suitably swirling psychedelic background imagery.
And here’s the complete 28-minute show, filmed against a blue screen background that feels weird disconcerting. great performance though, so who cares?