It’s often been said that the Who were the original rock punks, but the MC5, with their raggedy wall of noise, advanced the cause in one essential way. Emerging out of the industrial concrete purgatory that was Detroit in the late ’60s, they were arguably the first rock & roll band that dared to be tuneless. That may not sound like a subject worthy of an exhaustive documentary, but MC5: A True Testimonial is wide-ranging and beautifully edited – it’s a vivid evocation of a moment when even the ugliest guitar feedback could be taken as a serious political statement.
The band had one gambit that made each concert a potential culture clash: the ongoing threat of arrest as they introduced their one and only anthem with the ritual shout of ”Kick out the jams, motherf—ers!” That single rebel yell propelled their legend, and ”A True Testimonial” traces their battles with the police and the FBI, as well as their alliance with the self-important hippie ringleader John Sinclair. ”The Summer of Love didn’t make a stop in Detroit,” recalls one of the band members, and that pretty well sums up the intrigue of the MC5, who could barely put three power chords together but who out of that very inability recast rock as a combat zone of anarchy.