The Curious Case of One Scott McCaughey The Minus 5 Frontman Rocks The Bootleg Theater Just Two Years After Suffering Stroke
LOS ANGELES, CA- A stroke is a hell of a thing. Coming back from such a devastating attack on the nervous system is no small feat, even with years of therapy and treatment. So it’s with this in mind that we turn then to the curious case of one Scott McCaughey who, through enormous goodwill from fans and friends in the industry and what must have been sheer determination, was able then to bounce back from his own stroke of just two years ago to deliver a solid new long-player through his own musical outfit The Minus 5, the aptly named Stroke Manor (available now via Yep Roc). Not just back with a new album, the man has also hit the road with his band for a series of dates throughout the summer with a stop at LA’s Bootleg Theater this past Friday, August 2.
As an R.E.M. fan for as long as I can remember, Scott McCaughey’s presence was almost always felt by me if not immediately known. Originally of Seattle’s alt-rock duo The Young Fresh Fellows, McCaughey served as both live and studio support for R.E.M. during the band’s final stretch from their mid-90’s commercial peak to eventual disbandment in 2011.
Formed by McCaughey, along with R.E.M. guitarist Peter Buck and initially accompanied by Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies, The Minus 5 has been an outlet for McCaughey to cultivate a pop-rock sound reminiscent of Big Star.
Friday night’s show at the Bootleg Theater on Beverly must have felt like some sort of redemptive arc for the man they call The Hoople. Two years ago, McCaughey, along with fellow ‘Fivers Peter Buck and Kurt Bloch, was touring with singer-songwriter Alejandro Escovedo with a date set for the Bootleg Theater during the tour.
I had a ticket for that show and was stunned to learn shortly before (and possibly the very day of) the show that Scott McCaughey had suffered a stroke and the show would be canceled. In the days that followed, fans rallied to support McCaughey and if Friday’s performance was any indication, McCaughey’s road to recovery was a successful one.
Scott McCaughey is an uncommon frontman, slightly shy and genuinely effusive between songs while projecting an image of an expert craftsman when playing, he nevertheless comes off as the quintessential music fan in the most endearing way possible. Beyond possessing a clear and deep knowledge of rock and roll, his enthusiasm shined throughout on Friday night as he belted out old favorites, (“Aw Shit Man”) fresh cuts (“Beatles Forever”) and closed with a searing rendition of Neil Young’s “Don’t Be Denied” which was nothing less than a defiant rallying call from a man who seemed undeterred and unstoppable in the face of adversity.
The Minus 5 has seen a revolving lineup over the years, usually anchored by McCaughey and accompanied by Peter Buck. The band’s lineup at the Bootleg show featured guitarist Kurt Bloch, percussionist Linda Pitman and R.E.M. bassist Mike Mills. For a band that’s ostensibly an amorphous amalgam of all-stars, they completely gelled on stage and got on like old friends jamming for the sheer joy and pleasure of making music.
Living in LA, (or in my case, LA-adjacent Orange County) it’s easy to get jaded with the sheer wealth of amazing performers and bands that roll through town on the daily. Miraculous moments and outlandish spectacles are a common occurrence here but, on this night, something else happened.
Midway through the night, McCaughey turned to bassist Mike Mills to provide vocals on a song. Little did we know that song in question would be the perennial R.E.M. classic “(Don’t Go Back To) Rockville.” The second the instantly recognizable chords hit, a smile grew on my face that stayed there for the rest of the night. Not just a smile but a well of emotions swelled within. I had always loved Mike Mills’s version of this track, having heard numerous live versions over the years, but I had never heard it performed live by Mills, until now.
As I looked around the crowd during “Rockville” I saw a sea of faces, many much older than me, and some I’m assuming who may have seen R.E.M. while I was still in diapers. That didn’t matter. What had happened was nothing more than a transcendent moment that crystallized for me that enduring power that one good song can have on an eager audience ready to receive it. We were all there in that moment, sharing this experience and happier than you could believe. It pierced the veil of artifice and detachment, of cool and immediate that so permeates the LA scene to create something lasting and real and something I’ll likely think about for many years to come.
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