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LESS IS MORE

The Minus 5/Southpaw, Brooklyn, N.Y./March 26, 2006

Scott McCaughey.jpg

The Minus 5 has always boasted a loosely constructed cast of members and contributors, but revolves around two constants: bandleader Scott McCaughey (above), who formed the collective of mostly Seattle-based musicians in the mid-1990s as a side project as his previous band, the Young Fresh Fellows, was winding down; and his two-pronged gift for churning out measured, wry, observational guitar pop as well as full-on garage rockers (not unlike one of his major influences, Ray Davies of The Kinks).

McCaughey effectively straddles the two approaches well on much of The Minus 5’s catalog — most recently on the new self-titled release, aka “The Gun Album,” as opposed to his best-known work, the comparitavely soft and sweet Down With Wilco album from 2003. But in a live setting, his love for raucous, British Invasion-style anthems simply can’t be suppressed.

On this night, there was little time for pop subtlety as the singer/guitarist led his stripped-down but spirited Minus 5 –guitarist/vocalist Jon Ramberg (The Model Rockets); the band’s mainstay on bass, Peter Buck (R.E.M.); and drummer Bill Rieflin (R.E.M., Ministry) — unleashed a 90-minute power-chord assault that found a good portion of the crowd all too happy to dance along as Sunday night turned to Monday morning.

The music and the vibe onstage proved just that infectious. The opening number, a blistering “Ghost Tarts of Stockholm” — begun before the curtain had even been raised onstage — set the tone, with Ramberg excitedly joining in on a “fa fa fa-na-na” refrain. Uproarious numbers such as “Lies of the Living Dead” and “In a Lonely Coffin,” missed the whizzing organ part found on the recorded versions but were no less potent. And even slightly more laid back, melodically measured songs such as “Twilight Distillery,” “Out There on the Maroon” and “Got You” packed extra verve and volume.

The interspersing of can’t-miss covers — The Undertones‘ “Teenage Kicks,” The Standells‘ “Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White” and The Sonics‘ “Strychnine,” to name but a few — only added to the energy level. McCaughey’s enthusiasm punctuated the party atmosphere. When not hopping around between stanzas, he engaged in plentiful if not always clear-headed banter with the crowd (such as when he debated whether to sip from his pint of beer, glass of dark liquor or bottle of water, and offered what sounded like a backhanded compliment of The Smithereens‘ beat-you-over-the-head approach to chorus structures).

With The Minus 5 romping along with such good results, one of the night’s rare quiet moments proved an unlikely highlight, as late in the set, McCaughey and Co. pulled back for the stark, poignantly delivered ballad, “The Days of Wine and Booze.” Naturally, it was quickly followed by the double-time blast of “Aw S**t Man,” and if the former again highlighted McCaughey’s unsung versatility as a composer, the latter reinforced that, at least while onstage, he finds it a heck of a lot more fun to let loose as much as possible.

— By George Henn