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The Slip slides out of easy categorization

Joel Stonington
Boston trio the Slip opens tonight for Rose Hill Drive at the Belly Up. (Zack Smith)
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The Slip knows how to make music build, and build, and build.The band lets the tension keep you wondering and looking for more. Sometimes it lasts for a good 10 minutes of chimes and light, brushy drums along with twitters from the guitar and low rumbles from the bass. Sometimes it’s outright rock, the kind that keeps you seeking the next step. Then it drops. They throw down the funk, the jazz, whatever it is they’re going for at that moment. And you never really know, they probably never really know, what it’s going to be that time, or anytime. It just flows.Tonight, the Slip will be dropping the beat at the Belly Up. The Slip could be called a jam band or a rock band. Sometimes the members sound like they stepped out of 1950s New York, with a little light jazz. Every now and then you might hear some power chords and heavy drum beats. No matter what, they’re going to put on a damn good show. And the songs the Slip plays won’t be the same, even if you’ve heard the band before. “We’re all over the map as musicians,” bassist Marc Friedman said. “We’re like Hungry Hippos: If each ball was a genre, we’d be all over it.”The Slip is a trio out of Boston that formed 10 years ago when Friedman joined brothers Andrew and Brad Barr (drums and guitar, respectively). In 1996, they came out with their first album and began touring. It’s been going since then. But wait – they could hardly be pigeonholed into playing only one instrument. At any given show each of them will pick up some of the most random sound-making devices in existence. “There’s always a new instrument coming in,” Friedman said by phone from Austin, Texas, where the Slip is playing a week of concerts at the South by Southwest Festival. “There’s harmonica, ukulele, synthesizers, there’s no holds barred, whatever comes at us. I’ve been playing a Stratocaster lately.”He holds down the lower end of the sound spectrum while rocking out on the Strat when he plays a low bass organ with his feet. He said it resembles the pedals from an old church organ. It’s not the same as an effects pedal. Friedman said it looks more like fingers than like individual boxes, though the pedals on the organ can also be wired to trigger random effects, as well. “It turns out to be a sick sound,” Friedman said. “Every member of the band has their main instrument and one or two other things that can go on at the same time. It’s like playing a couple different instruments at once, and we’re all doing that.”But it’s not all about the effects. Sure, they throw down, they play around with sound, they funkify. But they’re not trying to make up for poor musicianship or anything like that. The Slip has a more earthy sound than most bands that play around with the digital sounds. Their music is more like a cornfield with a few crazy metal sculptures than it is like a Getty-designed museum in a cornfield. They’re out there, but grounded. Mostly, it’s just about mixing it up and keeping things interesting. “Usually on tour, each night, we’ll call a random song and we’ll end up playing it in a way we hadn’t thought of before, songs that we had not thought of touching or had sworn off, because they have a connotation of oldness,” Friedman said. “We’re like all right, whatever, we’ll just do it, and it’ll sound fresh and new. It’s a sign of three dudes who like to play together.”Yeah, for 10 years straight. Following their music for that period of time it’s easy to see forward movement. They keep switching it up, pushing their songs and trying new things. Sometimes they do things that fans aren’t so excited about, and they just don’t seem to care. They just keep on pushing the envelope. “We have a healthy learning curve process,” Friedman said. “We went to music school. We’ve all been trained since we were 6 or 7.”They all sing. They all play piano. “We’re pretty lucky to have each other as musical companions,” he said. “A lot of bands might settle into something good but consistent. I don’t look down on people who play the same set each night. That’s the nature of show business.”Lately they’ve been trying to feature at least a few songs each night, though they’re sticking to their jammy roots. “It’s a little more obscure to do what we do,” he said, “but it’s really fun to be changing it up a lot.”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is jstonington@aspentimes.com


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