It’s a rainy Bristol evening as a crowd spanning multiple generations begin filling the O2 in anticipation of seeing one of Rock and Rolls true greats.
Former Black Spiders vocalist Pete Spiby is the warm up act on this cold November night, touring to promote his first solo endeavour ‘Failed Magician’ with a new (to him) heavy blues sound. Unfortunately the crowd have only come here for one thing and it’s a quiet though polite reception for Spiby who looks a tad uncomfortable after the second ‘How are you doing tonight Bristol?’ Receives little more than a murmur. It’s fair to say tonight was never going to be about Pete Spiby but musically it’s a solid showing none the less.
Whomever was in charge of the between set music appears to be at the wrong show as a few club friendly beats are played during the changeovers mixing with the customary complaints of overpriced drinks, all of which will be forgotten soon.
As the lights go down to signify the start of the set, the crowd roar in anticipation and are met with the sound of 1968’s Detroit Grande Ballroom roaring back, the rabble rousing intro to Ramblin’ Rose plays through the PA as 70 year old Wayne Kramer sprints on to the stage and proceeds to shout along with J.C. Crawford’s legendary speech. The band which follow him onto the stage consists of further rock royalty: Fugazi drummer Brendan Canty and Faith No More bassist Billy Gould make up the rhythm section, with Soundgarden’s Kim Thayil on guitar and the towering figure of Marcus Durant from Zen Guerrilla on vocals.
As the opening speech concludes with the crowd suitably amped up the band go into Ramblin’ Rose which Wayne sings in a much lower pitch that the original version. The high notes may be missing but the stage moves certainly aren’t and Wayne remarkably hasn’t lost a step as he thrashes his iconic stars and stripes Stratocaster around with all the fury the songs deserve all the while donning a heartwarming smile.
As Ramblin’ Rose screeches to its triumphant conclusion, Marcus & Wayne take great joy in informing the Bristol crowd that it is now time to… “Kick Out The Jams Motherfuckers!” The audience erupts once more and the front rows are bouncing to the visible delight of Wayne.
Joyous is the perfect word to describe the night, the band have clearly come to play and talking is kept to a minimum as they fly through Come Together, Motor City Is Burning and my personal favourite Rocket Reducer No. 62. While experimental acid rock epic Starship has perhaps not aged as well as the opening sing-a-long rock anthems the chance to relive the crazy brilliance of such an important album in its entirety is almost certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity.
On the occasions that Wayne does stop to talk, it is always with purpose, a touching tribute to his deceased band mates: Rob Tyner, Fred ‘Sonic’ Smith and Michael Davis is greeted with the warm applause it deserves and serves as a reminder of just how fortunate we are to still have Wayne performing and makes his limitless energy even more astounding.
A Speech about the state of American politics ends in a chant of ‘Vote, Vote Vote’ probably more applicable on the US leg of the tour approaching their mid-term elections than to the British audience but the sentiment is still appreciated. With the 9 track album now concluded, Wayne & Co play through a few tracks from the 5’s often overlooked follow up albums Back In The USA and High Time before very suddenly leaving the stage.
As with seemingly every show of this scale, the band have a pre-planned encore, they barely get off stage before running back on to play more hits. Incredibly for a supergroup put together in tribute to an album from 50 years ago there is not a hint of cynicism, each musician is clearly loving their time on stage and the calibre of said musicians is a testament to both the influence of MC5 and the character of Wayne Kramer.
The Merch stand is barren but for the Pete Spiby album as MC50 don’t have any merchandise, they are not playing to promote anything nor to sell you anything, not a deluxe meet and greet package in site. This is a band playing Rock and Roll for the love of it and that love can be felt all throughout the Bristol O2 tonight.
Words: Hena Larkin
Photos: Sirin Bozkurt