The Minus Five Down with Wilco

The guy with the lampshade on his head and the guy with the furrow in his brow don't normally make beautiful music together -- which makes the mad-scientist miscegenation of the Minus Five and Wilco a fascinating anomaly.

With:
Musicians: Scott McCaughey, Jeff Tweedy, Peter Buck, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Ken Stringfellow, Jim O'Rourke, Mikael Jorgenson.

The guy with the lampshade on his head and the guy with the furrow in his brow don’t normally make beautiful music together — which makes the mad-scientist miscegenation of the Minus Five and Wilco a fascinating anomaly.

At this, one of just a handful of shows being staged to support the Yep Roc album Minus Five Down With Wilco, the tongue-in-groove smoothness of the bands’ union was quizzically beautiful. For the better part of two hours, Scott McCaughey (who handled most of the lead vocals) and Jeff Tweedy (Wilco’s front man, who stealthily guided the melodies) thrust and parried through songs that snaked along unhurriedly, testing bounds but mostly skirting indulgence.

Spiritually akin to the material on Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, songs like “Old Plantation” and “Family Gardener” (one of the few tunes to feature Tweedy’s disembodied-sounding singing) set a drowsy, pre-dawn tone. But whenever it seemed like the band was likely to sink into a funk, McCaughey — dapper as ever in thrift-store Nudie gear — turned the clock back to before closing time for slurry, regular-Joe takes on songs like “I’m Not Bitter” and “Lies of the Living Dead.”

Set was peppered with interesting covers, including Mott the Hoople’s “I Wish I Was Your Mother,” imbued here with a bit more bite than the version Tweedy occasionally proffers in Wilco’s sets. Still, original material — like the wistful, Jimmy Webb-esque “The Town that Lost Its Groove Supply” — was ultimately more gripping.

Encores were particularly loose-limbed, ranging from a sparse, sleigh-bell spiked “Twilight Distillery” (with guest vocals by John Wesley Harding) to a double-time reprise of “Days of Wine and Booze” that outstripped the version presented in the set proper.

The musicians sometimes seemed more interested in pushing each other’s buttons than those of audience members — most noticeably on an interminable “Not for the Season” — but the onstage party, while never outright raucous, was as inclusive as they come.

The Minus Five Down with Wilco

Bowery Ballroom; 500 capacity; $20

Production: Presented by Clear Channel Entertainment. Reviewed April 29, 2003.

Cast: Musicians: Scott McCaughey, Jeff Tweedy, Peter Buck, John Stirratt, Glenn Kotche, Ken Stringfellow, Jim O'Rourke, Mikael Jorgenson.

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