PETER Buck is far and away the most well-known member of The Minus Five, which is essentially a vehicle for the tuneful songs of Scott McCaughey, sometime second guitarist to Buck in REM.
Likewise, the “support act” The No Ones, comprised of exactly the same musicians, playing the same instruments.
Buck quietly played the bass in a not dissimilar style to his rhythm guitar playing. While all eyes were on him, his total attention was on following the changes in the music.
Guitarist Frode Strømstad’s solos were fast but essentially empty but his rhythm guitar was good. In truth, Buck also lacks his own voice as a bass player. This is a band whose members are happy to play in the service of the material rather than competing for the spotlight.
Drummer Arne Kjelsrud looked like he was having a wonderful time, a smile fixed on his handsome face as he and Buck held the songs together. McCaughey was the front man and singer, the one speaking to us too.
Having toured this same venue with Luke Haines in February, Buck and The Minus Five were back in Leeds, this time playing second fiddle to a Bon Jovi act next door on the Brudenell’s bigger stage.
“Is this the biggest place I’ve ever played?” Buck joked, in response to an early audience question. “Perhaps, in Leeds, in the last month.” It was the one nod to being in the presence of a man who has sold out stadiums around the world.
While lacking any overt star appeal, the band has a loyal following. The songs are mostly strong but never scale the same heights as REM. The No Ones sported a couple of more memorable songs; one about the late, great Phil Ochs and the best about a very much alive Jenny Lewis. A song for The Beatles was by some stretch the worst of the night.
The Minus Five set was unsurprisingly the stronger. Better sound, better songs, same personnel. Quietly prolific under the critical radar, their latest is the second instalment about Neil Young. Two back-to-back Young numbers were among the highlights, a fuzzed-up Hitchhiker and then a seemingly impromptu Revolution Blues.
In short. no razzmatazz, just good songs well played. The Minus Five are not really a big deal, but fun to see live.
Review by Paul Rhodes