Split Lip Rayfield :: 02.05.05 :: Fox Theatre :: Boulder, CO

Split Lip Rayfield :: 2.5.05
Five years ago, I thought Split Lip Rayfield was a great local band. Three guys from Wichita and the other from Lawrence. Since then, I've re-listened to their debut album on occasion, and managed to catch part of their show at Wakarusa this past summer. While their name is ubiquitous in most civilized parts of Kansas, I found myself referring to them as "this band, Split Lip Rayfield" to a number of people in the Denver area that are usually tapped into pretty good music. I figured they simply weren't that big yet. Now I figure I may need to find some cooler friends.

Split Lip has played coast-to-coast, from NYC to California, which the band describes as "one of our strongest markets." I'm hearing this for the first time after catching up with the band shortly after soundcheck. They temper that statement with a slight smile; "Well, I hope we don't suck."

For some reason, I'm still thinking that the show won't be too crowded. Nobody knows these guys. We arrived around 11 p.m. to find the Fox Theatre jam-packed with a couple dozen people milling around outside. Turns out there are two kinds of people – those who revere Split Lip, and those who haven't heard them yet. They are one of the few live acts capable of making an immediate connection with even the most uninitiated members of an audience.

Split Lip Rayfield :: 2.5.05 :: Colorado
As much fun as extended techno jams can be, part of me thinks that the genre will fall to the wayside and suffer a similar fate as disco. Split Lip, on the other hand, offers a certain authenticity and directness in their performance that is timeless: they would have been every bit as popular half a century ago as they are today. The recipe for their appeal is simple – lightning-quick chops, great backing vocals, memorable hooks, and an old-timey feel that manages to bridge the chasm between bluegrass and punk.

At 11:20 sharp, the band assumed the stage. The first thing most people noticed about the band was the non-standard "bass guitar" played by Jeff Eaton. For starters, it has one string. That's right, one string. Well, that and it's made from a gas tank. The contraption has been a fixture of the band, as Jeff commented "It'll be ten years in July. It was a washtub bass project that evolved..."

"You mean 'went bad," he was quickly corrected, to a round of laughter.

Gottstine (mandolin) ran with it: "Well first of all, he tried to use a washtub instead of a gas tank. He's not that smart."

We're like door-to-door salesmen, getting one person at a time with a 'Tell your friends, PLEASE!' kind of an approach. We were trying to get the Britney Spears smash hit and have this mass appeal overnight, but it's just not happenin.
--Kirk Rundstrom : Guitar

Regardless of its origins, the washtub fills out the bottom end of the band's sound surprisingly well. Strumming on the lone string produces a sound reminiscent of a jug, and the occasional slapping of the tub adds a percussive element you wouldn't expect out of an acoustic quartet.

Split Lip Rayfield :: 2.5.05
Despite the frenzied pace, the playing was remarkably precise throughout the set. They came charging out of the gates, and those in the audience who attempted to dance looked as though they were having epileptic fits instead of enjoying themselves. The now-classic "Outlaw" brought more than a few cheers from the crowd. "Sunshine" came shortly after, to a similar reception. Quick picking aside, the other element that separates Split Lip from the pack is their vocal harmonies. "Moving to Virginia" showcased the band at their finest, with the haunted lead vocals backed by the poignant and soulful efforts of the other members.

The band simply kept on playing with only the slightest of breaks for the entire two hour performance. They clearly heeded the wisdom of Homer Simpson to "never – ever – stop in the middle of a hoe-down." The pace remained intense as the band sampled a number of tracks off their latest release Should Have Seen it Coming in addition to a healthy dose of old favorites.

Jeff Eaton :: 2.5.05 :: Colorado
While Split Lip isn't a group that lives for improvisation, the encore found Gottstine and Eaton jamming for several minutes before being joined by the others. They wound up grading themselves strictly: "That was about an 85."

In case any of this review should come off as blind hero-worship instead of objective journalism, feel free to call my bluff: the band announced during the encore that they were recording the show. Almost on cue, the only technical glitch of the night surfaced through an eardrum-piercing slice of feedback. It wound up being pretty funny, actually.

So what does the future hold for Split Lip? For now, more touring. The band is currently in its fifteenth straight month of playing a dozen shows or more each month. They'll be moving onto Minnesota followed by a romp through Texas in March. Then its back to the Rockies at the beginning of April. While the website hasn't announced anything beyond the Denver shows, the band has: "We're heading to San Francisco in April at the Great American Music Hall. Just got confirmed."

Split Lip Rayfield :: 2.5.05
Though the cross-country jaunts have done wonders to increase their fan base, there's no place like home. After headlining the first Wakarusa last summer, the band will be returning once again this summer, turning the late-night tents into a whiskey-drenched barn dance. The past couple New Years shows also found Split Lip Rayfield back in Lawrence. While it hasn't officially become an annual event, it might as well be. As Lawrence native Eric Mardis (banjo) put it, "It's fun to be in your hometown and everyone's having a good time and it's full. I mean, sure, we did the millennium turnover show in Chicago and that was fun... but man, I love The Bottleneck."

While their studio recordings may offer a decent glimpse of the band, the live performances are what will win people over. As guitarist Kirk Rundstrom commented, "We're like door-to-door salesmen, getting one person at a time with a 'Tell your friends, PLEASE!' kind of an approach. We were trying to get the Britney Spears smash hit and have this mass appeal overnight, but it's just not happenin.'"

A few years back, Flogging Molly turned a lot of heads with their alluring concoction of traditional Irish music blended with the brash swagger of punk. Split Lip Rayfield is applying a similar aesthetic in their performances, revitalizing bluegrass with an intense burst of energy and a sense of immediacy seldom heard in any type of music. If you like bluegrass, then you should check these guys out. If you don't like bluegrass, then you need to check these guys out.

2.23 | Iowa City, IA | Gabe's Oasis
2.24 | Ames, IA | The Maintenance Shop
2.25 | Minneapolis, MN | 400 Bar buy now
2.26 | Lincoln, NE | Knickerbocker's buy now
3.01 | Manhattan, KS | Auntie Mae's
3.02 | Fort Worth, TX | The Aardvark
3.03 | Houston, TX | Continental Club
3.04 | Austin, TX | Continental Club
3.05 | Austin, TX | Continental Club
3.06 | Dallas, TX | Sons of Hermann Hall
3.07 | Tallequah, OK | Roxie's Roost
3.09 | Milwaukee, WI | Shank Hall
3.10 | Madison, WI | Cafe Montmartre
3.11 | Dekalb, IL | Otto's
3.12 | Columbia, MO | The Blue Note
4.01 | Denver, CO | Larimer Lounge
4.02 | Denver, CO | Larimer Lounge

Listen to Split Lip Rayfield On Rhapsody.

Words by: Nathan Rodriguez
Images by: Toby Voggesser
JamBase | Boulder
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[Published on: 2/22/05]

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