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Split Lip Rayfield provides a memorable farewell

Continental Club, Austin, September 23, 2006

Reviewed by Amber Pearce

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On their farewell reunion tour, Kansas's bluegrass anomaly Split Lip Rayfield graced Austin with a memorable farewell. The line of eager fans curved down five blocks of South Congress Avenue awaiting a night of bittersweet revelry.

Local opener White Ghost Shivers entertained in vaudeville style. The eight-piece string band performed a solid staged act complete with amusingly crude lyrics and bawdy jokes. For a spectacular crowd pleaser, the towering seven-foot lead singer hopped on top of a speaker to tap dance, long limbs flailing wildly.

When Split Lip took the stage, the punk rock hoedown commenced. Guitarist Kirk Rundstrom's vital melodic force managed to pop a string on the first song and Eric Mardis's fingers disappeared into the banjo with a blur. Jeff Eaton attacked his gas tank bass with his characteristic unstoppable energy, in a souvenir Texas t-shirt displaying sunflowers and kittens nonetheless.

The jam packed crowd was more like a church congregation singing along to some quite rowdy hymns, songs about pinball and truck driving, welfare, booze and drugs somehow doused with a carefree message from the muse.

Responding to a tense moment caused by heckling of an audience member, mandolin player Wayne Gottstine grinned into the mike, "I remember when I had my first beer." The audience collapsed into laughter and then began swaying together in unison to, "Find your lover under cover...You will soon discover that the road ain't as easy as it seems."

Posted on Myspace as bluegrass/ punk/ death metal, these guys certainly have an ear for the genius of simple twang. Memories of Split Lip abound being in awe with the rst sight of a gas tank bass during a serendipitous run in with the band as an opening act on their first tour in '98. On the following tour, at the last chord of their final song, the crowd erupted into a frenzy of yelling and applause. There came a time when Lawrence and Austin were the hubs of Split Lip Rayfield mania. Now the skull stickers and t-shirts at the merch table have disappeared, and the new songs are more serious and slower, but slow for Split Lip is still a sprint. The sprinting seems to have taken its toll, and the guys seemed a little rough worn.

All of this coincides with the troubling news that guitarist Kirk Rundstrom is terminally ill and has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, though obviously that has not stopped him one bit. All proceeds from the purchase of the CDs from his band Grain and Demise as well as his solo CDs go directly to Rundstrom and his family.