Red Start w/ Mile One (Saturday, January 29th, 2005, Uptown Bar,
Redstart isn’t exactly a new band; its roots go back to the summer of 2000. The group of musicians who played a one-off show that summer started calling themselves Redstart in 2001 and released their first EP “One” to critical acclaim in May 2002. They finished recording their full-length CD So Far From Over in 2003, and it crept somewhat unceremoniously into the hands of the public in the Spring of 2004. Although the album was featured in Princess Records listening party a few weeks ago at the Kitty Kat Club, an official CD Release Party for So Far From Over will probably not happen at this point; the band is already hunkering down to record the next one.
Redstart is fronted by Wendy Lewis, whom music fans may remember as a founding member and front-woman of the Twin Cities bands Rhea Valentine and Mary Nail. From her various musical projects, Lewis has been the recipient of 6 MMA’s, and was nominated for Artist of the Year in 1995. In 2000, Lewis released “The Language of Crows” with Jazz pianist Bill Carrothers on Warner Bros. France, an album that was one of the top 10 jazz CD’s in Paris that year.
Redstart is a bit of an all star band, and three-fifths of its members are from the same family. Other members include Michael Lewis (Wendy’s nephew) who plays sax, standup and electric bass and keyboards. Michael is also a founding member of Happy Apple and has worked with Carrothers for on projects with Warner Brothers France.
Horn player extraordinaire Greg Lewis (father to Michael, brother to Wendy) has played all over seemingly forever and still plays Monday nights with the Cedar Avenue Big Band at O’Gara’s.
Guitarist Jeremy Ylivsaker has played with Barbara Cohen, The Melismatics and Mark Mallman and is a founding member of Detroit. He has also worked with Fog and the Domo Sound.
Drummer Martin Dosh has worked with Fog, Lateduster, Vicious Vicious, and his “one-man band” project called Dosh has toured Europe.
I first saw Redstart in April of 2004 when they opened for The Great Depression at their CD Release Party at the Bryant Lake Bowl. Then for several months, the band dropped off my radar. I didn’t spot them again until shows at the Fine Line just after Thanksgiving and at the Cedar Cultural Center in December. It was at these shows where my love affair with Redstart truly began. The band has a dark, jazzy, dirge-like power that I find surprisingly invigorating. Some songs have the weight of contemporary hymns, while others groove like slow, psychedelic Stooges mantras. And lyrically, the depth of understanding exhibited by Redstart’s songs is remarkable, even disturbing at times.
Which brings me to Saturday night at the Uptown.
Openers Saturday were Mile One, a space-tripping, tight, hard rock kind of jam band, kind of like a Led Zeppelin that can’t stop dancing. Aside from the happy hoofed antics of the long-haired vocalist, and the extraordinarily well-kept stage (all amps flat against the back wall, sandwiching the drummer in the middle) the band’s fans really stood out in this show. I was almost afraid at times of the dancing girls up front who sometimes paraded around the room, seductively playing with their belts, and at others literally slithered across the Uptown Bar floor. I was definitely glad to have arrived early and paid full attention to this band, who I think I may have seen in the late 80’s. (They’ve been around forever.) Their gigs appear few and far between these days, but from the looks of this one, you’re likely to have an enjoyable time.
After a rather lengthy set break, Redstart took the stage around 11:30. They opened with “Stone,” one of many songs they would play tonight from So Far From Over. The song begins with just upright bass from Mike Lewis and understated drums from Martin Dosh, and shortly afterwards a little guitar feedback from Jeremy Ylivsaker and then Wendy Lewis’s initially subdued vocals come in. If you didn’t know what you were doing, this would not be the way to open a show. But in Redstart’s hands, this song was not only attention grabbing but downright mesmerizing. Wendy Lewis stood stage center almost absently with her hands in her pockets as she sang. (She plays guitar on many other songs, but this first one wasn’t one of them.)
Lewis has a way of being unassuming, yet overpoweringly in control of her performance. Subtlety, in fact, is a something this entire band has in abundance, both individually and as a whole. There’s definitely a concept that serves as a foundation for this music, and a communal understanding of what it’s about, something that's absolutely critical on a song like “Stone” where what’s really going on musically is taking place in the spaces between the notes. Lewis tensely sings, “On this failing rock that’s burning / The sound of money that’s in the trees,” then veritably wails on what might be considered a chorus if this was a traditionally constructed song.
For the next 45 minutes to an hour, I sat at my table with my chin on my hand, focused, taking it all in.
The next song “Speechless” kind of picked up where “Stone” left off, but took a jazzy and more upbeat turn. A cool flute line from Greg Lewis is this song is atonal, but adds to the level of discomfort it wants to elicit from you. By this point I noticed I wasn’t the only one with chin on my hand. Redstart is a band that coaxes you into reflection both sonically and lyrically.
“I Don’t Know” is maybe my favorite song off the disk. It is most accessible and representative of where Redstart appears to be with this disk. From this song alone you can hear Lewis’s strong voice, her somewhat atonal melodic construction, (and the fact that she and her band know how to rock when necessary and are not afraid to do so.) Ilvysaker let out a shout as he and Mike Lewis broke into the driving part of the song, and the song ended with a flourish of trumpeting from Greg.
After the chant-like, ambient jazz feel to “Walking Stick” where Ylivsaker picks quietly with a different rhythm than the rest of the band, came “What You Carry,” which I’d initially thought was a traditional Appalachian or mountain song. In fact, is yet another Lewis original. Lewis introduced the song, calling it “a mild protest song that should be less mild.” It’s one I hope is recorded for the new album. It features the heartbreakingly sage advice, “It’s what you carry, not what you lose that’ll drag you to your knees.”
“Since we are so cozy, we're just going to get darker,” Lewis said before playing what I’m going to refer to as “The Birdie song,” because I don’t know its real name, a kind of a dark underside to the Beatle’s “Blackbird” (this bird’s wings are clipped and it’s not going to be flying anywhere anytime soon) with American Analog set style chords, and a moment of quietness with Greg playing a short flute and Dosh playing a semi-military style drumbeat. This is another song that will probably stand out for you in a Redstart set, and it’s the one they opened with at the Cedar the month before.
People. Look for Redstart at a venue near you, and go to redstartgo.com
and buy Redstart's new album. At the risk of sounding like a rock critic,
you absolutely have to see this band, and this CD will be one you’ll
want to share with friends and put back into your CD player even after
you’ve heard it a dozen times. Though no shows are currently up
on the website, if schedules and stars come into alignment, you may see
Redstart at the 2005 howwastheshow showcase in June.