To witness Scott McCaughey as a musician is to witness rock magic. He’s a deft songwriter and superb guitarist. He’s a glorious personality whose smile is contagious, while his sunglasses hide the true genius that comes forth one song after another. After finishing a Minus 5 tour, he embarked on some “solo” house shows. The first of these occurred in Harrisburg at a restaurant—note. bistro & winebar—and, like the shows to follow, were far from solo. Peter Buck played on all but the first song (a stunning cover of Nice As Fuck’s “Guns”) and played at the rest of the solo house shows), while the phenomenally underrated Michael Giblin (Split Squad) played bass.
In such an intimate setting, McCaughey came alive in a way I’d never witnessed before. Stripped-down deliveries of staples like “Blue Rickenbacker” and “Twilight Distillery” were revelatory. The classic “Aw Shit Man” was, in McCaughey’s words, done in a “sultry sexy” version that was certainly stunning. And to hear two of my favorites, “Find A Finger” and “Dark Hand Of Contagion” (which was dedicated to my wife and me because it’s the song that played right after we met),back to back means more than can be put into words.
After seeing McCaughey’s glorious work in Minus 5 shows the week before, the power of him recovering from a stroke comes into greater clarity night after night, especially on “My Generation,” with the powerful refrain of “not ready to die” nearly shouted into the microphone. Here, in an intimate setting, it’s even more powerful—emotive rock ‘n’ roll poetry perfection.
And then there’s “Top Venom,” a song that recalls the ordeal of being in the hospital. A sucker punch of reality, it’s as brilliant as any work McCaughey has ever produced. Following this was the night’s closer, Neil Young’s gorgeous “Don’t Be Denied.” Hearing McCaughey with Buck and Giblin weave through a tale of being a musician and ending with “Oh friend of mine/Don’t be denied” shows the kinship between the three performers and the close connection with an audience that’s been a friend to McCaughey for decades. This friendship has only grown stronger. May it go for many years to come.
—words and photos by Chris Sikich