Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck must be the best of friends because beyond touring together with R.E.M., the two of them write songs and perform as they did Friday night at Matryrs’ as members of The Minus 5 and The Baseball Project. The 3 “groups” performing on Friday shared the same 4 musicians and alternated lead vocals between Scott McCaughey and Steve Wynn. Although the show was billed as 3 separate sets by 3 separate artists they overlapped a great deal. I arrived about 20 minutes in assuming I was avoiding Steve Wynn’s set (whose vocal prowess is lost on these ears). To my shock “The Minus 5” was rolling through tracks from 2009’s Killingsworth. Martyrs’ stage and intimacy is a real joy and surely adds to the level of enjoyment and engagement between performer and audience.
I found the first set to be the best of the evening. Standout Minus 5 tracks from the aforementioned Killingsworth included “Vintage Violet” and “Ambulance Dancehall.” For much of the night Peter Buck handled bass duties and performed nary a vocal.
Again fan accessibility and a willingness to mingle scored high points with me and the assembled fans. McCaughey hung out at the bar chatting with well-wishers between sets for upwards of 20 minutes while Buck signed and posed for photos at the merch table during the same time span.
Alas, there would be no reprise of “The Family Gardner” on this night, but apparently John Stirratt of Wilco was in the house.
However, in keeping with the baseball theme Chicago Cubs announcer Len Kasper was on hand and took the stage at the opening of the second set. He introduced the song “Harvey Haddix” which recalls the names of all the pitchers who have thrown perfect games, including updated lyrics adding the White Sox’s Mark Buehrle. Kasper (and I) took issue with lyrics celebrating the Go Go Sox, Luis Aparicio, Nellie Fox and Minnie Minoso at a venue on the North Side, to which McCaughey cleverly responded that there are no rock clubs on the South Side. In any case, Kasper sang his lyrics celebrating Ernie Banks, Billy Williams and Ron Santo and handed them to McCaughey. (Who later smarted at how great said lyrics were and mentioned that he admires Santo’s radio work but that he sounds like he is in pain in the booth.)
I had a great time, but could’ve done with fewer of the baseball songs (see Wynn’s ill-advised Spanish language track “Fernando”) and more Minus 5 tracks, but why quibble. It was cool to see a stadium performer like Peter Buck at home at the club level. Tomorrow I will take in the second night of U2 at Soldier Field. Talk about polar opposites.
Watch Len Kasper’s appearance: