Split Lip Rayfield, Empty Bottle, Chicago, IL 1/21
The bass player plays an upright 1959 plastic Samsonite suitcase (or something). He and the mandolin player compete to see who can contract emphysema first the mandolin player wins by polishing off 34 packs of Camels during the hour-long set. I found myself trying to play along, and consequently have sounded like Kathleen Turner for the last 3 days. And the music is even cooler. Bill Monroe and the Ramones? Dee Snider and the Flecktones? The band is Split Lip Rayfield they play…American music, I guess.
The music happened at the Empty Bottle, which is up there in the hipster pantheon of Chicago and Chicago's hipster scene can go toe to converse-covered-toe with any hipster scene anywhere, man. It snowed a foot, but the bar was packed with the Pabst-drinking Wicker Park crowd (I still don't get the Pabst thing, in a similar way to them not getting the Phish thing I think a slightly different relation to irony and honesty?)
Before discussing Split Lip, though, I have to discuss the opening band, Puerto Muerto. The band consists of a tall-skinny-indie-looking guitarist and hot woman singer with an even hotter operatic steamy voice. But she's even hotter than all that, because in addition to singing, she voraciously wails with a single mallet on a single drum. It is so primal and NOT cheese it makes Colonel Kurtz seem like a frat-boy. Upon seeing her I immediately ran to the front row and proceeded to drool. The guitarist is stupid because this diva is his wife, and one day a large man will snap him in half and steal his woman.
Anyway, Split Lip rocks and they are excellent musicians and have imperfectly great harmonies. The music is hard to describe (and I don't know any of the songs by name) but it's kind of like sailing down a waterslide lubed with sausage gravy. In other words, it's really exciting and dangerous while it's happening, and when it's over you can still lick yourself and feel great. If you didn't know anything about the history of music, you would think bluegrass grew out of punk. The revved up playing and anthemic songs produce the same kind of energy as a good Clash City Rockers. The banjo, mandolin, and guitar solos never sound like historical re-enactments or dexterity exercises they increase the raucous substantially. It doesn't sound like a genre experiment at all, like so many current bluegrass bands, and it definitely doesn't sound old. It sounds very much new, and, I hate to say it, but it comes together …organically. Everyone dances throughout the show and the dancing comes easily. You can do hippie gyrations one minute and head-banging the next. I would highly recommend seeing them when they come to your town.