Monday, June 25, 2007

The Slip At The Bowery Ballroom

By: David Schultz

In line with the elusiveness evoked by their name, The Slip, a talented trio of Boston-based musicians, are a hard band to firmly get your mind around, their complexity rendering them indefinable in the simple terms often used by mass-marketers. Such slipperiness owes to the wide ranging skills of guitarist and lead singer Brad Barr, his brother Andrew (drums) and bassist Mark Friedman. Without needing much structure to work within, The Slip’s live sound has long found acceptance on the jamband circuit where audiences are receptive to improvised diversions and experimental digressions. Setting themselves apart from the jangling hordes, The Slip have a sense of melody not typically associated with bands capable of ten minute instrumentals.

Eisenhower, their most recent album, aimed more for the intellect than the gut. The interlocking bass and guitar riffs laid down by Brad Barr and Friedman weave sinuously with Andrew's drumming in a manner that challenged the most discerning of listeners. A thinking person's album, Eisenhower was greeted with a plethora of critical praise. Currently on a three week tour of the East coast that has included stops at the Wakarusa and Bonnaroo Festivals, The Slip returned to New York City for a Friday night show at the Bowery Ballroom.

The Slip are at their best when they let loose, following the song wherever it may lead. When they break free from the limitations of traditional song structure, they create lots of room for their prodigious skills to come to the forefront. Brad Barr makes an acoustic guitar sound more electric than your typical Fender or Gibson, getting the full sonorous acoustic tones without losing of the electric guitar's fire. Marc Friedman nimbly works bass lines that alternately provide counterpoint for Barr's guitar or carry the song on its own. Although capable, Andrew Barr avoids the overpowering, hard-driving drumming, working his drums into the spaces created by Friedman and his brother rather than blasting away at a beat. Brad Barr doesn't have the widest range on the mike. The Slip have worked this to their advantage, though. By not working outside his capabilities, Barr's vocals generate a warmth that matches the band's understated demeanor.

Their originality being one of the band's main draws, The Slip bracketed their two hours set with a pair of faithfully-adhered to covers. The spacey harmonic soundscape that opened the show raucously turned into an unexpected cover of Led Zeppelin's "Heartbreaker." The Slip's version didn't segue into "Living Loving Maid" but they did bring the song to a halt so Brad Barr could replicate Jimmy Page's solo, much to the howling delight of the crowd. Possibly owing to the late hour, their evening closing cover of Nick Lowe's (made popular by Elvis Costello) "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love And Understanding" wasn't as inspired, failing to draw as impassioned a reaction from the flagging crowd. In between the covers, they focused on songs from Eisenhower, giving many of the slower pieces, noticeably "If One Of Us Should Fall" and "Airplane/Primitive," an impassioned flavor missing from the studio versions. Barr and Friedman meshed best on their set closing version of "Children Of December" their lyrically lightweight ode to being born during the Christmas season. Friedman laid down a bouncy bass line with Barr filling in the gaps with a nice staccato riff. Not only their catchiest song, "Children Of December" is one of The Slip's most accessible.

The Slip have been slowly winnowing their way into America's subconscious. This past summer, My Morning Jacket's Jim James proclaimed himself Slip Fan #1, singing the band's praises and arranging for the Massachusetts based trio to open numerous shows on MMJ's fall tour. Making further inroads into the zeitgeist of a younger generation, the creators of video game sensation Guitar Hero programmed "Even Rats," Brad Barr’s subtle vision of unrest on the horizon, into the game as a secret, hidden bonus track. They hit the mother lode though, this past TV season when "Life In Disguise" played over the final scenes of a Grey’s Anatomy episode. If their appeal continues to broaden at the same steady pace as one of the their songs, their breakout should be imminent.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!