MC5 - LIVE AT THE GRANDE BALLROOM 1968
Those of you that read my piece a while back on what has to be my favourite and most played album of all time, MC5 - Kick Out The Jams, will be aware of my love for all aspects of the career of these noisy gentlemen. If you missed it, here's a link to go straight to it. Read me
This Italian release only came to my attention a year or so ago but was rather prohibitively priced...until now, when a very cheap copy was obtained online !
I'm always keen to add anything new (regardless of sound quality) to my MC5 collection so the fact that this contains 3 full fidelity numbers from the legendary recording sessions at the Grande for the "Live " album really made this a must have.
Proceedings kick off with a 2:54 Intro from the band's "spiritual advisor" Brother J.C. Crawford recorded at the Grande on 27th October 1968 during which he invites fans to come along to the upcoming free shows at that venue on 30/31st October so that they can be part of the recording for the band's debut album for Elektra Records.
Motor City Is Burning from 30th or 31st Oct'68 4:28 - Nice to hear a different high quality version but to be brutally honest this is not as good as the official release....In particular the vocals haven't the same snap and definition, particularly illustrated by the rather lack lustre singing of "sireeeeeens". The playing is not quite as on the money either...Elektra made the right choice of "take" to put on the album in my opinion.
I Believe To My Soul from 30th or 31st Oct'68 3:00 - Their unique take on a Ray Charles number which, for some reason, fades out just as it seems about to really take off ....perhaps it all went horribly wrong and the faders on the desk were pulled back...we may never know, but its a good example of the sort of covers that they used to sprinkle amongst their originals in the sets at the time. Vocals and playing are all "spot on"...just a shame its so short.
Rocket Reducer No.62 (Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa) from 31st Oct'68 6:11 - Very much closer to the released version than "Motor City etc" and about a minute longer, but the ferocity and performance of the version with which we are all familiar is not surpassed here.
At this point we wave good-bye to the lovely sound quality and say "hello" to the low-fi which we have become all too accustomed to on all the previously released unofficial "live" albums. I don't want to sound ungrateful as we should count ourselves fortunate that some audio records survive of their immense live shows and to be honest, after repeat listenings the shortcomings of the recordings fade somewhat. I've found that listening to these recordings on "walkman" type headphones gives the best results and also gives those around you little cause for complaint !! Anyhow, I digress......onto the last 3 tracks on the cd which have all been available elsewhere for ages but do actually sound fractionally better here. This might actually be due to all my copies of unofficial live stuff being on cassette tape ?
I'm Mad Like Eldridge Cleaver from 27th Oct'68 18:53 - Even I have to admit that this song...after the first 2 or 3 minutes becomes a chore....a very very long 19 minutes chore !! I fully accept that this is the sort of thing that they did, experimentation was part of their way of doing things and I suppose live in the Grande Ballroom with the atmosphere and vibe of the time it was probably amazing. The fact that this is a very very low fidelity recording with poor instrument definition throughout doesn't help matters. Its nice to have but not something I can listen to more than once every couple of years !!
Ice Pick Slim from 26th Oct'68 18:11 - Similar comments to those above really....slightly better quality and there is the basis of a song running through its sprawling 18 minutes. Infinitely more listenable to than "Cleaver etc"
....and finally to finish things off with a bang, the immense Black To Comm 7:19 - exact recording date at the Grande is unknown, although this is the same version as appeared on an MC5 compilation album entitled " Live, Studio and Rare Monsters" which gives a date of 1969 but no venue. Click here to listen to the version on this release:
According to the liner notes on the "'66 Breakout" cd this was "our room clearing device" !!! Fast furious and full on version which has the best sound quality of the 3 "low-fi" tracks....and leaves you with a big smile on your face...We have a really good quality version to listen to on the aforementioned " '66 Breakout" album but it would be nice to have a similar quality one from later on in the 60's when they were really going full tilt at it as they do here.
A word of warning...not all versions of Black To Comm are as "rocking" as this....some, especially one they were somehow allowed to perform live on TV in the States in 1967, can only be described as experimental and quite disturbing to the unprepared listener/viewer. Its worth watching this clip of the last minute or so of the broadcast purely for the look on the presenter's face and his comments at the end !! Priceless !!
If all of this has made you want to find out more about this wonderful and iconic band than I must direct you to the best MC5 site out there "MC5 Gateway" to be found at Make My Day blog
Here you will be able to find out almost anything on what they did and when they did it ! You can also find the set lists for the Grande Ballroom "Elektra" gigs and imagine what a tremendous double live album they could have released.
Kick Out The Jams Motherfuckers !!
Doug E Dogg
(Awesome article, cheers ......tony)