The Minus 5 very nearly ceased to be in late 2017, when band leader and frontman Scott McCaughey suffered a near-fatal stroke that landed him in the hospital with no ability to speak and no memory of his own songs. But McCaughey, ever a fighter and not ready to give in just yet, made a miraculously strong and very public recovery over the next year, first playing a series of shows in his hometown of Portland, Oregon (dubbed the “Therapy Sessions”), and then going on the road with the likes of Arthur Buck and Filthy Friends. On Record Store Day this year, he released his latest Minus 5 opus, Stroke Manor, consisting of songs he wrote while on his road to recovery. Far from being the valiant but middling effort that might be expected of someone who has gone through everything that McCaughey has in the last year and a half, the album is incredibly strong, and will almost certainly go down in history as one of The Minus 5’s greatest records.
But perhaps the biggest challenge that McCaughey has chosen to face so far is taking The Minus 5 on tour. While traveling with those other bands was almost certainly a test of his fortitude, nothing on those tours could possibly match having to be the front and center of attention for the entire evening. The good (great, even) news is that McCaughey has proven more than up to the task, as he proved in a long, 21-song set at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Washington, DC.
Backed by a who’s-who of some of his closest collaborators, including bassist Mike Mills and guitarist Peter Buck of R.E.M., guitarists Kurt Bloch and Joe Adragna, and drummer Linda Pitmon, McCaughey played a long and energetic set that featured not only songs from Stroke Manor and the band’s previous effort, the epic five-album collection Scott the Hoople in the Dungeon of Horror, but also featured some deep dives into the back catalog including “You Don’t Mean It” and “Ghost Tarts of Stockholm” from 2001’s Let the War Against Music Begin, and “Original Luke” from the 2006 self-titled record (“The Gun Album”). Several long-time fan favorites – “I’m Not Bitter,” “Lies of the Living Dead,” and “Aw Shit Man” – made it into the set as well. And in a nod to his recovery (which began with re-learning Beatles songs), the band played a cover of “Nowhere Man” following the Stroke Manor track “Beatles Forever (Little Red).”
Perhaps the greatest nod to his ordeal came with the song “My Generation” (from Scott the Hoople), during which McCaughey sang the repeated closing line – “I’m not ready to die!” – forcefully and with the conviction of someone who had, in fact, faced down death and won.
Washington, DC post-punk trio Dot Dash, who released their sixth album Proto Retro last year, opened the show with a high-energy set.
The Minus 5 setlist
My Collection You Don’t Mean It My Master Bull Bleach Boys and Beach Girls I’m Not Bitter Well In Fact She Said Lies of the Living Dead Remain In Lifeboat Beatles Forever (Little Red) Nowhere Man Ghost Tarts of Stockholm Original Luke Where Have All the Good Times Gone It’s Beautiful Here My Generation Top Venom In the Ground Blue Rickenbacker
(Don’t Go Back to) Rockville Plascent Folk Aw Shit Man