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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.  

Erik Ritland
Author: Erik Ritland

Music in Minnesota editor Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from the east side of St. Paul. He has released 7 albums and 8 EPs featuring his unique blend of rock n' roll, modern rock, and Americana since 2001. Rambling On, his personal blog and podcast covering music and sports, was launched in 2012. Erik was also Head Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Hometown Hustle and Curious North.

Written by Erik Ritland

Music in Minnesota editor Erik Ritland is a journalist and musician from the east side of St. Paul. He has released 7 albums and 8 EPs featuring his unique blend of rock n' roll, modern rock, and Americana since 2001. Rambling On, his personal blog and podcast covering music and sports, was launched in 2012. Erik was also Head Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Hometown Hustle and Curious North.

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