Like a rock 'n' roll Sisyphus, the Slip have long been punished by their own eclecticism. Every time the New England trio release a new album or go on tour, they're rolling their burden to the top of the hill, reaching another pinnacle in their shape-shifting style. Then they evolve their sound and the boulder tumbles, crushing expectations and sending fans scrambling, and the process starts all over again. Ten years of such struggle can seem like an eternity in Hades.
"Some people call it insanity," says Brad Barr, the Slip's lead singer, lyricist, and guitarist. "We don't live normal lives like normal people. We're willing to sacrifice quite a bit for this . . . this process, which is becoming who we are. We're plotting ways in which to escape it but never really seem to be able to. Kinda like Pacino."
So maybe they're more like a rock 'n' roll Michael Corleone. Here's a band who, since forming in a Massachusetts high school, have zigzagged through indie rock, acoustic folk, electro noize, and funky punk, only to arrive at the next question mark. Now they're flaunting the brilliant new album Eisenhower, a potent condensation of the Slip's expansive, soulful explorations. And as they're sitting right now in the back of an RV on the road somewhere between Seattle and Portland, a couple gigs into the 31 they're playing over the next 35 days, these guysBrad, his drum-whiz brother Andrew, and bassist Marc Friedmanare beginning to realize something: Maybe there are others out there like them, a Cosa Nostra in the making.
"Sometimes you feel like you're in a vacuum when you're literally in a vacuum," Brad says. "You're in an RV, driving around. You sit in the studio and make your music, and it's a very personal experience. You're with your bandmates, and these guys feel like your family. But sometimes it takes somebody stepping back and making that connection."
In this case the connection is post-jam, a loosely defined term to wrap around the Slip and other improv-heavy road warrior brethren. Take fellow Bostonians Apollo Sunshine, New York spaz jazzers the Benevento Russo Duo, Philly's Dr. Dog, and Kentucky phenoms My Morning Jacket. Take the fans of those bands, twenty- and thirtysomethings who've navigated a similar path through musical influences, starting in college with noodly experimentalists like the Grateful Dead and Phish and graduating to noodly experimentalists like Wilco and Built to Spill. Take the shared catharsis of thousands of live shows and hundreds of bootlegs and a slew of genuinely classic albumsfrom Anthem of the Sun to Yankee Hotel Foxtrot to Z. Add it all up. There's something happening here, and for everyone concerned, it usually happens onstage.
"That's true, and that's one of the big connections between all those bands," Andrew says. "A dedication to a really connected live show."
"Really trying to get off every night onstage," Brad adds. "Not being content with getting up and playing your songs perfectly and walking off, trying to nail your record, but actually trying to scare your bandmates at some point, make the audience in a bit of a mad state."
Still, no artist likes getting journalistically genre-fied, right? "Not exactly," Brad says. "I'd love for a writer to come along and really impress me with a phrase. I think we'd all kind of enjoy that. But nobody's done it yet." That diffidence is exactly what people love about the Slip, and what keeps them from easy marketing, for better or for worse.
"To put it bluntly, I think we're in the era of Radiohead," Andrew says.
"They are the biggest rock band in the world," Brad concurs. "They put on the definitive modern live rock shows. And we're all kind of playing a more American rock version of their experimental soundscape . . ."
" . . . With songs."
"With songs," Brad continues. "The songs are as important as finding an innovative approach. And then taking it onstage and having the final step in the process be, 'Let's see how we can open it up and affect a room with it and make something happen.' "
And once again the Slip push their rock to the top of the mountain.
The Slip open for My Morning Jacket Thursday night at Roseland, roselandballroom.com.
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