August 19, 2005

The whole ’60s counterculture movement seems so silly and impotent today. The conceit that freaks, rebels, peaceniks, and flower children could summon enough muscle to transform an uptight America into a paradise of free love, brotherly love, social responsibility, and expanded consciousness is more hilarious than an inspired episode of classic Saturday Night Live. It’s also funny—in a French avant-garde, sad kind of way—because the movement failed with a thud bigger than the Enron crash. But dig Kick Out the Jams, and witness the giddy-dangerous-ecstatic exhilaration that occurred back then when a group of socially conscious wackos actually believed that music held enough voodoo mind-meld magic to stop people from worshipping greed and power. The frenetic majesty of the band’s performance footage is chilling, and see if you don’t cry yourself to sleep after being assaulted by the rush of a band that sold a gazillion records less than many of today’s bland-o-rama acts. Sure, the MC5 were totally off their heads, but if that helped them become more like musical General Pattons (and we’re talking about an alternate universe Patton who was an ass-kicking hippie White Panther) than Herman’s Hermits or Coldplay—then, all hail the passion of demented minds on a mission of social destruction! These guys meant it, man, and that commitment was absolutely reflected in the clangorous punch of the band’s guitars-bass-drums-scream sonic fusillades. The metallic head trip is also echoed in the crazy cut-and-paste nature of this DVD, where film clips of the MC5 performing (along with audience scenes and other environmental cinema) were edited onto each song. Nothing really matches up, but the sheer sensory impact of the audio-visual collages surpasses any advantages of narrative flow, and the speeded-up 1968 promotional clip for “Kick Out the Jams” is genius. This DVD is a marvelous, yet admitted off-center tribute to a band that ultimately influenced punk rock and rebel rockers of all stripes, and it’s a salute to a time when a culture had the balls to rage against the machine. MVD.

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