By Scott McLennan
It seems the right time for The Slip to answer the perennial calls for a reunion.
The Slip will be at Fete Ballroom in Providence on November 12 and at the Sinclair in Cambridge on November 13 as part of a short Northeast tour that kicks off in Burlington, VT, on November 11.
To be a fan of The Slip is to be able to enjoy the unexpected.
When The Slip was most active in the late ’90s and early 2000s, the trio’s sound evolved from project to project, moving from a jazz-rock foundation to a more expansive jam-oriented format that ultimately veered toward an art rock style that turns its attention to songwriting.
Still, The Slip’s never totally cast off consistency. The group added and subtracted its musical components in a way that didn’t upend a recognizable musical identity. And that identity is intrinsically tied to who comprises The Slip.
Reached recently at his home in Montreal, guitarist and singer Brad Barr maintained that The Slip can only exist in one form: bassist Marc Friedman playing with him and his brother Andrew Barr on drums. Brad Barr drew the distinction between The Slip and his post-Slip band, the Barr Brothers band, which he and Andrew launched in 2006. That group has functioned with a revolving cast of musicians joining the brothers.
“The thing about The Slip is that it’s the three of us, and it can’t be any other arrangement,” Barr said.
The “arrangement” came back together in August for one of its rare reunions, playing three sets at a festival helmed by Joe Russo’s Almost Dead. The gathering was enough to spark the group’s first tour in more than a decade.
Barr explained that he, his brother, and Friedman did not intend to play beyond the reunion sets in August. It was a fun outing, where they has an opportunity to jam with JRAD on some Pink Floyd numbers and teamed with guitarist Nathan Moore and JRAD keyboard player Marco Benevento to reprise their old electro-folk side project Surprise Me Mr. Davis.
But their return to live work drew the interest of concert promoters. Within a week of the August shows, Barr recalls, “they conspired, and a run of shows was presented to us.” He added, “Actually, we felt great about how the sets went creatively, so we thought doing more shows could work.”
What’s more, The Slip had “new” songs to air. At least new to audiences.
“Around 2008, 2009 The Slip did a bunch of recordings, so 11 years later we had some new songs. These songs are older than the entire career of The Beatles and are still sitting around,” he quipped.
The band released the song “Superterranean Onlyness” earlier this month. The song has a loping groove married to a yearning vocal, bringing together older psychedelic flourishes with a modern art-rock mood. This tune would likely please fans of Crazy Horse and Radiohead alike. And, in an unexpected twist, producer Steve Albini, better known for his work with heavier, post-rock groups, put together the final version of the song.
But the sound is unmistakably The Slip, just as 2006’s “Eisenhower,” with its propulsive, twitchy drive, was no less The Slip than the more sprawling and organic “Angels Come on Time” from 2002.
The Slip emerged from the Northeast’s vibrant jam-band scene during the late ’90s. In 1997, the band released “From the Gecko,” its heavy jazz influence a welcome respite from the sea of Phish copycats at the time.
The Slip often teamed with such like-minded experimenters as Schleigho and the nascent Lettuce. It was also called upon to open for bigger groups. One memorable night in Worcester the band opened for funk great Maceo Parker at the Palladium theater and then trucked up Main Street to do a late-night headlining set at the now-defunct jam-hub Tammany Club.
Barr remembered that era with both fondness and some misgivings.
“When we opened for Maceo, it was like another one of those little feathers in our cap. We’d always think, ‘This would be the thing that breaks it open for us.’ In hindsight, I wished I had taken in the experience more. I don’t think I even talked to Maceo. Today, I wouldn’t care if they tried to throw me out, I’d try to get to Maceo.”
But during the same period the members of The Slip were shaping their own musical consciousness as well as contributing to a movement of young, forward-looking musicians.
“We’d be paired with Schleigho or Lettuce and sit around with those guys talking about (John) Coltrane and (John) Scofield and Lauryn Hill and our own ideas about music,” Barr recalled.
The Slip also existed at a time when the Barrs and Friedman could live the “band life.”
“For so many years, I thought if you played in a band, you all lived together. You’d eat together, you’d go jam. It’s how I pictured Led Zeppelin working,” he said.
The band built a solid following and drew high-profile festival gigs, yet in 2007 announced a hiatus.
Barr said that he and his brother intentionally distanced themselves from all things The Slip when they started the Barr Brothers.
“It was an identity issue. We had all those years of being called a jam band, and to get the Barr Brothers off the ground, we needed to get away from The Slip,” he explained. “It was hard at the time to see all of the virtues of The Slip and easy to see all of the negative stuff.”
When the pandemic hit in 2020, the Barr Brothers band was winding down a tour cycle for its album Queens of the Breakers.
“We were slowing down and that left us some room for other projects,” Barr said. “We weren’t slowing down creatively though.”
He worked on a solo album that’s due out in January. And it also seemed to be the right time to answer the perennial calls for a reunion by The Slip — as long as Friedman could arrange his schedule and the trio could offer up some new music.
“It was important to us to not just have the old songs. We do want some familiar touch points, but that’s not enough,” Barr said. “The thing about the Slip, though, is we could walk out there and make it up on the spot.”
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.