Minus 5 goes anti-Wilco
by Chris Castaneda | The DePaulia
|Scott McCaughey is
a busy man these days. Whether it’s fronting The Young Fresh Fellows
or teaming up with R.E.M., McCaughey always finds a way to keep
himself occupied. And included on his resume is The Minus 5.
Wednesday night was the first of two sold-out shows for The Minus 5
at the Abbey Pub in support of their recent album, “Down With
So, who is The Minus 5 really? Well, the world of The Minus 5 is a constantly revolving door with new faces always joining in on McCaughey’s vision. Peter Buck of R.E.M. has been a consistent partner with The Minus 5 for a while now. This time around, McCaughey and Chicago’s Wilco joined forces to become the latest incarnation of the band. McCaughey’s relationship with Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy and John Stirratt goes all the way back to their pre-Wilco days as Uncle Tupelo.
McCaughey’s initial idea was to collaborate solely with Tweedy. Recalling their early conversations, McCaughey described how the collaboration snowballed into something even bigger. “We talked about the two of us making a record. We hadn’t necessarily said, ‘Let’s do it with Wilco.’ Kind of bit by bit as we got closer to it, I said, ‘Yeah, it would be great if John wanted to do some stuff and maybe sing some songs.’ And [Tweedy] was like, ‘Well, we got this great new drummer, Glenn [Kotche]. You’re gonna love him. We should have him play.’”
In the fall of 2001, the prospect of having Wilco participate in the project was too irresistible for McCaughey to pass up. “I was like, ‘Yeah! Bring them on!’ [laughs] And then it turned out to be a good time to play with them. They were just getting ready to play live for the first time as that band, that four piece.”
The beginning sessions for what would become the “Down With Wilco” album took a strange turn with the destruction of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. “The weirdest thing about the first session was that we started on Sept. 10. We literally had been recording for one day. We were all really happy and excited ‘cause we started this thing which was really great,” said McCaughey. “And then the next day, ya know, the whole world went to hell. The rest of that session was obviously pretty damn weird.”
It wouldn’t be until December of 2001 that the sessions continued after Wilco had completed their fall tour. “Really the biggest difference in a lot of ways about December was that we had time to adjust a little bit,” said McCaughey, “and we’d been able to listen to the nine songs we’d recorded in September and really, really get fired up about it being a great record.”
The dense layers in “Down With Wilco” weave together a mixture of melancholy songs with a sense of humor. Having the reputation of being a joker, McCaughey doesn’t feel the material on “Down With Wilco” should be written off as being completely reflective of his personality.
“There’s always going to be humor in the music that I do,” said McCaughey. “There are some funny lines in there. But I don’t think the overall message of each song is particularly funny. And the whole album I think is kind of a downer, which was another part of the ‘Down With Wilco’ thing. Music and fun go hand in hand with me.”
But on Wednesday night, McCaughey and Wilco took their finished album to the masses. “The Days of Wine and Booze” started off the night. McCaughey’s somber voice backed by Tweedy and Stirratt really brought out the tragic beauty behind the song. Tweedy and McCaughey joked throughout the night. But it was all in good fun.
The group treated the audience with covers of Neil Young’s “Lookin’ for a Love” and “Losing End.” Bill Fay’s “Be Not So Fearful,” a staple of Tweedy’s solo acoustic performances, received the full band treatment. Glenn Kotche nearly stole the spotlight with a phenomenal job of blending an orchestral world to his drumming while flat out unleashing a well of enthusiasm too deep to measure. A favorite already among Wilco fans, “Dear Employer” took on a whole new level as McCaughey’s voice bled the lines, “That’s the reason that I quit.”
A preview of Wilco’s latest work also made its way into the set. After a surprise rendition of “Jesus, Etc.,” Wilco catapulted into three new songs. “Theologians,” “Company On My Back” and “Kickin’ Television” definitely leave the neighborhood of “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.” The Iggy Pop-inspired “Kickin’ Television” was almost like watching Wilco on speed: dangerous, wild and defiant.
The night ended with a reprisal of the show’s opener done in true punk fashion, fast and furious. Sloppy, shaky, but special. Who says inspiration is suppose to be pretty? For McCaughey, just having the opportunity to feel his songs on stage was enough to make him happy.