Red Red Meat: A rare treat

It’s true that red meat can help make you healthy, but Red Red Meat can do something more: it can cure a stern case of the Mondays. At least, that’s what the bluesy alt-rock band did for me and a few hundred others this past Monday at a free concert in Millennium Park.

The concert was soothing and entertaining, but it was also significant for another reason—it was the last chance to see the group play. Bandleader Tim Rutili had recently said that they would be “retiring” after Monday’s show.

Red Red Meat perform in ChicagoWell, make that re-retiring. Red Red Meat released its first single in 1991, and its last album came out 1997, before the quartet went its separate ways. Although the Chicago-based band hasn’t produced new material in more than a decade, interest in the group recently grew after its primary record label, the influential Sub Pop Records, re-released a deluxe edition of its most critically-acclaimed effort, 1995’s Bunny Gets Paid, which had been out of print for years.

In support of that re-release, the band reunited to play a handful of shows culminating at Pritzker Pavilion on a clear, still Monday night. So why was I there? I wasn’t rocking out to Red Red Meat back when they were active, probably because by the time I hit double digits they had already broken up. No, I was there because of the band that came after Red Red Meat. Following the break-up a few band members, including Rutili, went on to found Califone, which, according to the blog Pitchfork Media, has “always been stupidly under appreciated, and the further we stumble into the 21st century, the more [its] music starts to feel both familiar and necessary.” I’m an enormous fan of Califone, and the chance to see a previous incarnation was enough to get me out to the park. That whole “free” thing didn’t hurt either.

Spectators dotted the grassy slope behind the half-full pavilion seats. Some brought wine; some brought full picnics. Others, strolling Michigan Avenue, heard the music and wandered in. It all created a vibe suited to Red Red Meat’s sound: sometimes loud, sometimes quiet, equal parts cohesive jam and scrappy, empty spaces.

Califone guitarist Jim Becker joined percussionist Ben Massarella, drummer Brian Deck, bassist Tim Hurley, and Rutili for a set that stretched just past one hour. And midway through the set, between songs, Deck quickly exited, returning moments later with his son, no more than six or seven years old. The boy took his position next to Massarella and his bag of noisemaking oddities, banging away for a few songs. His internal metronome, unmistakably on view in his gleeful head bobs, kept surprisingly good time. With a drumstick in one hand, the boy hit an extra floor tom, and used a shaker in the other, instantly establishing himself as the Coolest Little Kid Ever. The experience left me jealous of his inevitable rock-star status, relaxed after some great music, and ready for Tuesday.

Luke Fiedler, ’10

Photo by John W. Iwanski / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

August 28, 2009