The Minus 5 and The No Ones provide an unforgettable night in deepest Kent

Scott McCaughey, Peter Buck and co. bring their A-game to a surreal al fresco show in Knockholt

In the world of incongruous live performances, The Minus 5 in a Kentish beer garden is near the top. Not least because the band’s bass player is ex-R.E.M. guitar wizard Peter Buck. The Peter Buck. In a beer garden. In Knockholt. You’d be black and blue from pinching yourself.

The Portland-based outfit have been through so many members that the line-up has its own Wikipedia page. One of the biggest names on that list, Buck is also the closest thing to an ever-present, save for the group’s leader, ex-Young Fresh Fellow and occasional R.E.M. auxilliary Scott McCaughey.

Tonight, the quartet is rounded out by Frode Strømstad and Arne Mathisen of the excellent Norwegian band I Was A King. Coincidentally, Mathisen and Strømstad are also in the other band on the bill, The No Ones, along with Scott McCaughey and Peter Buck. Two bands, four people, two sets, one Kentish beer garden. Pinch yourself again.

The No Ones start things off, McCaughey getting mileage out of the joke that the two bands consist of exactly the same people. The band amble around the garden beforehand like popular locals, shaking hands, Buck smiling sheepishly at what appears to be the Kentish chapter of the R.E.M. fanclub.

Peter Buck at The Three Horseshoes in Knockholt

McCaughey’s slightly pithy, self-deprecating sense of humour is a highlight, as are the gorgeous harmonies from Mathisen and Strømstad. Both Norwegians also inject a harder edge to proceedings, Strømstad flinging his Fender Jaguar around with abandon while drummer Mathisen propels the quartet forward with enough force to shake the The Three Horseshoes’ wooden outdoor stage.

The first set covers a good chunk of the band’s two albums, which fall between Life’s Rich Pageant R.E.M. and Teenage Fanclub’s fuzzed-out jangle. McCaughey has always been something of an undersung songwriting talent, something that only seems more criminal the longer the night goes on. Songs like ‘Phil Ochs Is Dead’, ‘304 Molino Way’ and ‘All The Stupid Days’ deserve to be celebrated far and wide. The man’s light remains undimmed, brightened by the boundless gifts of his current bandmates.

Somehow, The Minus 5 are louder than The No Ones. A good proportion of the second set is given over to the band’s latest album of songs “by or about Neil Young”, but these all rock harder than their recorded counterparts. A sped-up cover of ‘Pocahontas’ and the Neil-worshipping ‘Build A Pyramid’ stomp about like they’re wearing steel-toed boots. ‘Bleach Boys And Beach Girls’ is coated in layers and layers of lovely fuzz that drive birds from the surrounding trees.

If anyone’s even a little disappointed, it could only be because one of the best guitarists of his generation hasn’t actually played any guitar. That all changes rapidly when Peter and Scott swap instruments and invite a local friend up to sing ‘The One I Love’. If the night wasn’t surreal enough, Peter Buck playing one of his greatest solos in the twilight glow of a summer beer garden is once-in-a-lifetime stuff. A highlight in a night over-stuffed with highlights.

The Minus 5 and The No Ones play The Garage in London on 6 July and Brudenell Social Club in Leeds on 7 July – get tickets here