While I was sitting with my party at Chai's Thai around the corner from the 400 Bar, some folks at the next table took a couple looks over at us, and leaned in conspiratorially, asking if we were going to the Split Lip Rayfield concert later. We answered yes, and they asked what kind of crowd they could expect that the show. There was some hemming and hawing, until finally someone said, "Um, I dunno, a bunch of guys with beards, and some lesbians?"
It's as good a guess as any; Split Lip's a weird band, part punk, part bluegrass, a little bit metal and a little bit country. Correspondingly, their fans are pretty diverse, from drunk punk kids to respectable middle-agers who'd look right at home showing up at Orchestra Hall. By the time openers White Iron Band left the stage, the 400 had squeezed in a respectable crowd of 'em into its awkward space.
With a setlist written on a pizza box (in red ink, making it nearly impossible to read under the stage lights), the band immediately got down to business, each member with his own remarkably different stage presence. Mandolinist Wayne Gottstine ("He puts the man in mandolin") stared out at the audience impassively, occasionally smiling to himself as a particularly difficult riff passed through his fingers perfectly. Banjo player Eric Mardis boasted the lethargic demeanor of a dyed-in-the-wool pothead, while bassist Jeff Eaton brought the driving energy to the music with his insanely fast one-string bass playing.
Pausing only to let Eaton re-tape his fingers (playing a bass made out of a gas tank is hard on the hands), Split Lip whirled through most of their fan favorites, including Movin' To Virginia, Never Make It Home, and Used To Call Me Baby, a genuine country-western tune despite its ambitious tempo.Close to the encore break, they took a break, as they do every show, to dedicate the evening to their former bandmate, Kirk Rundstrom, who passed away in 2007 of cancer.
Split Lip came back for a strong encore, whipping out another handful of up-tempo songs as much of the room sang along. When they retreated into the greenroom for the final time, the crowd remained for several minutes, stomping and hollering for more.