Friends with R.E.M., Collaborators with Wilco, the Minus 5 Transcend Their Connections 

The Minus 5. Photo by Jason Koffman. From the Minus 5 Facebook page.
The Minus 5. Photo by Jason Koffman. From the Minus 5 Facebook page.

Down with the Minus 5 

The Minus 5 is known for playing with Wilco, members of R.E.M., and legendary Americana songwriter Alejandro Escovedo. The songwriting skill of Minus 5 leader Scott McCaughey transcends those connections, though.  

He wrote the band’s new album, Stroke Manor, while recovering from a stroke in 2018. It’s personal and sometimes weighty, but McCaughey’s gifts for melody and pop songwriting balance out the subject matter well. 

He brought his band’s endlessly hook-y, jangly pop rock to the Turf Club on Thursday. 

A Proper Opening 

Minnesota Americana mainstays Rich Mattson and the Northstars were a fitting opening act. Prolific, legendary Mattson led the band through a varied set of rock, folk, pop, and country. Their punk energy was often accented when Mattson would let loose on his impressive red Rickenbacker guitar. 

I’m Definitely Not Bitter 

The Minus 5’s set was charmingly loose in a “third stop of the tour” sort of way. At one point, one of the band members said it was “just like an old-time jubilee,” making bassist Mike Mills (of R.E.M.) smile. You could tell that all of them, not the least McCaughey, were even more grateful than usual to be playing their music to a packed house. There were plenty of smiles and jokes as they made their way through a nearly 20-song set. 

The setlist spanned the entire Minus 5 catalog, from “Find a Finger” (off 1995’s Old Liquidator) to several tracks from Stroke Manor. As is often the case with the Minus 5, each song felt like an anthem, especially singalongs like “It’s Beautiful Here,” “Bleach Boys and Beach Girls,” “My Generation” and “Aw Shit Man.” A cover of the Beatles “Nowhere Man” fit in well.  

The highlight was “I’m Not Bitter,” a fantastic track off their 2003 Wilco collaboration Down with Wilco. I can neither confirm nor deny whether they played it because they saw my tweet before the show requesting it. The perfect songwriter’s song, it is driving, melodic, and has some killer, clever lyrics. 

Long Live the Minus 5 

An energetic cover of a Neil Young deep cut, “Don’t be Denied,” ended the night on a high note. Scott McCaughey may have just recovered from a stroke, but he showed no signs of slowing down at the Turf Club.  

Written by Erik Ritland

Erik is a journalist and musician from St. Paul, Minnesota. In addition to writing and editing for a number of local outlets, he founded Rambling On, a Minnesota-focused blog and podcast about music, sports, and culture, in 2012. He began working for Music in Minnesota in 2018 and is a writer, editor, and social media content strategist.

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