(Photo and review by Roy Kasten)
Non-smoking shows are all the rage. I wouldn’t argue against them; I would retain Split Lip Rayfield as barristers.
The easily sold-out show at the Duck Room on Thursday night was non-non-smoking, a gloriously eye-burning, lung-choking, clothes-stinking, pit-sweltering morass of first and second-hand self-destruction. Plus: Banjo.
It’s sick, of course, as SLR guitarist, singer and songwriter Kirk Rundstrom pretty much smoked himself to death. He’s been gone for over a year now, and the Kansas trio has smoked on -- in the case of mandolinist Wayne Gottstine literally. In the case of its fan base, the same.
If you leave race out of it (and I know you can’t), rock crowds don’t get much more diverse than a Split Lip show. Skinheads, buzz cuts, sk8rs, pony-tailers, hippy twirlers, unredeemable punks, faux-trailerites and the real deal, dreads, and steroidal frat bros and their dates, moms and a grand dad or three. I counted 98 SLR t-shirts. Tattoos were legion.
Acoustic trio Drakkar Sauna opened, with a sound reminiscent of the Holy Modal Rounders, only punk, as if the band once knew how to play their instruments but then forgot. The band’s not nearly as jammy as its name suggests. It sings of hysterectomies and Lord praising, with sharp, high voices, the kind of voices that might flow from from jaws jammed with Wrigley’s tinfoil wrappers and tobacco. They showed no fear of maracas. When SLR’s Eric Mardis joined in for one last number, the five-stringed instrument in his hands inspired wild shouts of delight—and it wasn’t even International Banjo Bonfire Day.
After a fair amount of feedback and sound issues, Mardis, Gottstine and gas tank bassist Jeff Eaton, got down to the bluegrass ass-whipping they did not invent, but which they’ve perfected, even without their thrasher soul brother Rundtrom. You could say some power was missing, some wicked attack, but that would be nit-picking, especially since the un-power trio can pick and slap like a hillbilly bitch-slapping machine set to louder than God.
And they still know only two speeds:
Fast and blitzkrieg.
And if anything, numbers like “Never Make It Home,” “Pinball Machine,” “Movin’ To Virginia” and “Lord I’m Lost” proved that their sound is only more fused, more tightly harmonized, more in the pocket, than it ever has been—no matter what acoustic mayhem the punks might have come for. In no way should metal progressions mesh with bluegrass, but when the trio leans in towards each other, spraying note after note after note, stopping and starting and spinning and always moving forward through the ridiculous BPMs, they serve notice that bluegrass punk isn’t just about energy. It’s about instrumental domination and discovery, even when one of the instruments is made of auto parts and weed whacker line. Special to the Track Starz: Sample that shit. Gas tank beats are floor killers.