I assumed the last time I saw Split Lip Rayfield would indeed be the last time I saw Split Lip Rayfield. Kirk Rundstrom--guitarist, singer, and, in many ways, the heart of the band--was still raging against the cancer that had attacked him, but it seemed like he wasn't destined to win that battle. So, when he died a few weeks later, I figured the three remaining members of Split Lip Rayfield would call it a day and perhaps go on to other musical adventures.
So I was a little surprised (pleasantly so) when, about a year later, I saw that Split Lip had decided to continue on and, in fact, were releasing a new CD. Then came the long wait for them to come back to the east coast. I had long since stopped checking their website for tour dates when I saw in a Bowery Presents e-mail that Split Lip was coming to play the Mercury Lounge. Huzzah! I would have preferred that it wasn't a late-night show on a Tuesday (both for my own selfish, sleep-related reasons and for a potentially better crowd turnout), but huzzah nevertheless.
With recollections of sparsely attended NYC-area Split Lip shows in my head, I paid the cover at the Mercury Lounge and stepped into the main room. The opening band was wrapping up their set, and there was a pretty healthy-sized crowd for a Tuesday night. And when Split Lip came out, it seemed like the crowd had doubled. I don't think that was the case (I was up front, so I couldn't tell just how many people there were behind me), but the sheer volume and intensity of those in the crowd made it seem like a Friday night. And the band seemed to feed off that, with banjo player (and occasional guitarist) Eric Mardis declaring it the "best night of the tour, by far." And you could tell by the smile on his face throughout that the sentiment was genuine.
Mardis, mandolinist Wayne Gottstine, and gas-tank bassist (an occasional kazooist) Jeff Eaton are still playing as fast and hard as ever. And though it was a little weird not to see Kirk crouching down and firing off guitar runs, it wasn't as jarring as I thought it would be. A few nights later, I saw John Hiatt, and in dedicating a song to Jim Dickinson (about eight people at the Count Basie Theatre clapped...suck it, suburbia), Hiatt made note of the words Dickinson had inscribed on his grave: "I'm just dead, I'm not gone."
Kirk Rundstrom wasn't gone from that show on a Tuesday night in New York City. I'm sure of it. I'm glad I was there as a witness.