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The Slip: Out of a Jam

 story by tim mcmahan



Lazy-i: Nov. 17, 2006

The Slip
w/ The Lovely Feathers, The Bon Savants
Saturday, Nov. 518 9 p.m.
Sokol Underground
13th & Martha

There's one thing that the Boston/Montreal trio The Slip wants to make perfectly clear: It isn't a jam band.

The odious tagline has hung over the band like a dead, rotting albatross for years, thanks to their beginnings in the early '90s when the band was known for its experimental avant-jazz stage sessions -- i.e., jamming.

But those days are long gone, which anyone could tell by taking a listen to the band's just-released Bar/None debut, Eisenhower. Instead of wonky instrumental hippy noodling, the album consists of a tight set of intensely melodic, layered indie rock that recalls bands like Death Cab for Cutie, Built to Spill and Wilco. But despite that, The Slip continues to be bundled in with all those dingy jam bands.



"It hounds us," said drummer Andrew Barr while huddled -- along with the rest of the band -- around a speaker phone in a Holiday Inn on Hollywood Blvd., mere hours before their set at LA's Knitting Factory.

"We've been a band for over 10 years now," said singer/guitarist Brad Barr, Andrew's brother. "When we started out, we were still figuring out what kind of music we were making. It's our love of jazz that brought us together, though it's not cool to admit that these days. We weren't devoted to punk or jazz or rock, so we kind of let it all creep into our live show, and that's how the (jam band) label probably got adhered to us. We never felt akin to that stuff. "

Their musical direction, however, shifted five or six years ago, when bassist Marc Friedman stumbled onto music from a Pacific Northwest indie rock icon. "When I discovered Built to Spill, I found a different universe I had never heard before," he said. "I'd gone from listening to improv music by Coltrane and Bill Evans, to one day putting on a Built to Spill CD and saying, 'That's what I want to do.'"

"Marc turned us on to Built to Spill," Brad said, "Bands like Wilco and Built to Spill come from a punk-country place, but once I started digging into that stuff, it occurred to me that it's all modern electric folk music. It didn't seem that different to me than what Van Morrison or Dylan was aiming for. Blending that style with our writing style was natural. It wasn't a conscious shift, really."

On Eisenhower, The Slip take recognized indie reference points and bend them in a new direction that acknowledges their jazzy past. Opening track "Children of December" is a sweet, back-beat meditation on birthdays filled with personal shout outs done to a tune that would be right at home on the last Death Cab album. Follow-up track "Even Rats" leans heavily on roaring guitar riffage and intricate melodies reminiscent of Keep It Like a Secret-era Built to Spill. While lush set pieces, like the soaring "If One of Us Should Fall," recall Trip Shakespeare or its brethren, Semisonic. The only time the band retreats to its instrumental-only days is on the proggy "The Original Blue Air," which sounds like King Crimson meets 90125-era Yes.










"I'd gone from listening to improv music by Coltrane and Bill Evans, to one day putting on a Built to Spill CD and saying, 'That's what I want to do.'"







"I don't mind being called an indie band, but I do mind being called a jam band."


Friedman said adhering to a more stringent song structure hasn't dampened the band's ability to stretch out on stage. "Ten years ago we were doing a lot of soloing and avant-garde whatever," Friedman said. "When we're playing songs off the new album, there's so much more going on musically. We may not be ripping into a solo. Instead, there are a lot of textures and attention to detail, with enough room to be as improvisational as we used to be."

Ironically, The Slip comes to indie rock at a time when the term is beginning to show signs of age. The band, however, seems proud to be associated with the ambiguous musical movement.

"I don't mind being called an indie band, but I do mind being called a jam band," Friedman said. "The term 'jam band' has a horrible, underlying theme to it that makes you want to run away and grab a fire hose. It claims to be open and free and spontaneous, but the music sounds the same, and listeners approach it all in the same way. Perhaps the drugs induce that feeling. Indie rock just has a nicer ring to it."

Still, Friedman and the band would prefer to avoid being lumped in with any trend or style. "They all eventually die out," he said. "In five years, people will be sick of the term indie rock."

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Published in The Omaha Reader Nov. 15, 2006. Copyright © 2006 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.