Live at the Saginaw Theatre, 1970
aw, this aint punk rock, Wendell said. This is the type of shit that weed farmin’, acid-eatin’ longhairs listen to. Acid rock craziness. Dayglo weirdos takin’ it to the man. “Rambling Rose” shocked out of the boombox speakers. The near dead Dodge Dart rattled through red lights, the driver stonedrunk on Wild Irish Rose, laughing along with every single syllable that shot out of Wendell’s mouth. I had been to my first punk show that night and had hooked up with two undesirables in no small part due to the bottle of schnapps I’d lifted from the folks’ cabinet. A girl with a fuchsia mohawk pierced my ear that night with a straight pin; I got drunk and tried to jump a train with a friend who sprained his ankle in the process.
Lots of secrets were spilt; we learned about lines in subculture sand and Ska and skins and which girls were ready to give it up for a single quart of shit malt liquor. Wendell and his bro were arrested that night in a stop-n-shop. We ran tail over head back home. Snuck in and stayed up until dawn replaying the whole thing in our minds. I took the train to Wax ‘n’ Facts hours later and bought Kick Out the Jams on vinyl for like seven bucks. It sounded as heavy and dangerous as it had hours before and the gatefold shot with the Motor City Five—and their hair—was an acute harbinger of clogged shower drains to come.
If anyone could ever tongue ‘n’ cheek some theophanic bullshit, it was these guys—the bona fide Blues Brothers yawping for Yahweh, bringing the sweet Jesus sensation to even the most incontrovertible converts. Saginaw puts these claims in perspective, and shows irrefutably that one of the world’s greatest live bands recorded the world’s worst studio albums. Sure, it’s slow-going, and the sound is uncooperative and strangely cold, but Rob Tyner and the boys bring this shit full tilt in less than five minutes. Wayne Kramer’s and Fred “Sonic” Smith’s guitars duel and preen and spit; Kramer’s sounding more like Coltrane’s sax than some hard, throbbin’ axe; Smith’s like the ur-heavy, adenoidal groan itself, laying rhythm as basic as the earth’s core, spewing leads like the worst kind of drunk: too much, much too fast and straight out the nose and ass. Michael Davis and Dennis Thompson are sick, crafty fucks. Davis’ bass locks in step with Kramer and Smith; Thompson often pounds away with stone overhead, thudding with a Trojan equine heartbeat.
“Rocket Reducer (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa)” is pure caveman sing-along, hair-pulling, wooly hide wearing fuckall, with Tyner a street freak, alight with slobbering howls, the big, slick gobs of spit dripping from his fat, filthy teeth as he provokes the cheer: “Rah-mah Lah-Mah, Fye, Fye, Fye!” There’s an apropos cover, too, with the Michigan knuckle-draggers slopping through “It’s a Man’s World,” with as much panache as a half-dead Rhino drenched in Brut. Beauty reveals itself in all kinds of ugly, and that’s as close an explanation as one’s going to get for what passes for the “finale” here. “Starship / Kick Out the Jame / Black to Comm / Teenage Lust” is the “Sister Ray” of the gearhead set, a swift trip into a bottomless pit of white noise and wanton power, where the decibel is warlord and those that refuse to submit to its overbearing influence are powerless. I’d sing along if I knew the words to any of it.
I’ve forgotten about Kick Out the Jams; Saginaw is just that good. It’s seen circulation in a billion different guises, but those paste on mustaches falter after few listens; this is the genuine deal. Get Back has thrown it on vinyl, too, which adds to the experience with that snap, crackle and pop working in tandem with the dated and “heavy” dialogue. Brothers and Sisters, it was a bummer of a time even if your folks told you otherwise. The riots weren’t filmed on Hollywood studio lots; we really did land on that moon. Somehow, I got the impression that the MC5 felt they were making a difference, even if they were chugging suds, smoking buds and tearing electrified R&B a new one. Trust me on this, the Kids Are Still Alright…