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April 20, 2012 | 12:19 p.m. CST
Hailing from Lawrence, Kansas, Split Lip Rayfield comes to Mojo's for a night of bluegrass and alt-country. Photographs by Nick Agro
Imagine an old white-haired, beer-bellied, overall-wearing man sitting on his front porch plucking three notes on his homemade washtub bass, spittoon at his side. Now imagine getting punched in the face after you first wake up.
That’s about how it feels to be at a Split Lip Rayfield show. They’re from Lawrence, Kansas, but we’re not going to hold that against them if they keep bringing us music like this.
These guys brought it. SLR, as their most loyal fans call them, mounted the rickety steps with assumed authority. Mojo’s box of a stage provided an intimate setting for Wayne Gottstine as he straps on his mandolin, Eric Mardis as he tunes up his banjo and after tossing the cap behind him and raising his beer to the crowd, for Jeff Eaton as he lulls the crowd to sleep with a steady line. Then Eaton backs away to lets the banjo and mandolin compliment. Their sound is steady and true to their roots influence, but the punk undertones are evident.
Instead of an old man pluckin’ on his porch, Jeff Eaton beats his homemade gas tank bass. The single string instrument (a bass is usually made with four strings) is made out of an old Weedwhacker chord and the clamp is a fresh strip of duct tape. Its name is the Stitchgiver, and it might be the cheapest instrument in the Midwest. Instead of getting punched in the face when you wake up, you feel like obeying the words of James Brown: “Get Up Offa That Thing.”
There were plenty of tube tops, t-shirts, flip-flops, cowboy boots, thick, bushy beards and clean-shaven faces in a showcase of age and experience. Split Lip Rayfield offers a little bit for everybody. Their lyrics strike a common chord for all walks of life. They ask the Lord to help them find the way, but they also know how to get over a woman — one six pack at a time.
Its harmonic companionship is evident as they exchange smirks on stage before exploding into a scramble of Gottstine’s mandolin and Mardis’ banjo. You would need four hands to keep up because they play really, really fast. And the crowd loved it. The night was a perfect blend of steady swaying and let-loose dancing.