The Slip, North Six, Brooklyn, NY- 12/31
There is no doubt about it, The Slip had a banner year in 2006. The release of Eisenhower was even bigger and better than they’d been promising for the last two years, two years that seemed like they might even lead to the demise of the band- not because the artistry wasn’t there (The Slip continues to be one of the more thrilling and edge cutting acts out of the northeast) but because nearly a decade on the road can take its toll. The constant talk of the upcoming release was becoming a drone, and then a drone tinged with anxiety. Fans knew all the songs- part of the work up was to work out on material like “Children of December”, “Paper Birds” and “If One of Us,” all great songs, night after night. Setlists began to stagnate, and all those other great songs, not just “Alsoa” and “Yellow Medicine” but “Mud Slide” and “Chasing Rabbits,” seemed nothing more than a forgotten memory. But then that first email came- they’ve been signed; the disc really will be out, in less than a month. No band deserved it more, but releasing an album is hardly a sign of success. Signs of success include coverage, not just in jamnation and its various media portals, but in the mainstream press; a spot on a major indie rock tour; web casts and multiple radio broadcasts, including WXPN in Philly and NPR’s Mountain Stage (being an NPR foster child and success seem to go hand in hand- ask Dave Matthews, Joan Osborne or Diana Krall) and of course, showing up again and again and again on best of the year lists from critics, musicians, fans and music insiders. Truly no band deserves it more.
Which is not to say the band is infallible. After a too, too long set from Meowskers, an early roadie for the trio whose act is a less- than-pleasing mash of Billy Joel, Green Day and simplistic emulations of The Slip, the main act took the stage at Brooklyn’s North Six at 11:30. They powered through “Children of December” and “Airplane/Primitive”, Brad Barr snapping a string almost immediately. Normally that would be a good omen for the night, but when he stopped to say that time had gotten away from them and they were going to rearrange their setlist to make it to the New Year on time, the musical equivalent of starting a speech with “I didn’t actually prepare anything for today’s speech” or “I’m really nervous,” it seemed sloppy. The whole build up to midnight, including the 2007 blues rap from Meowskers, seemed terribly rough and rushed.
Andrew Barr, who was immediately the center of attention from the moment he sat down, seemed to feel the same way because the second the guests left the stage, he focused entirely on his kit and drove into a deeply grooved “Neube”. “Now let’s really play,” he seemed to say. And when Brad hit that sweet little lick a couple minutes in, it definitely felt good. Those great older songs? They’ve been creeping back since a mid summer show in Hoboken when they encored with “Johnny’s Tune” and the place went nuts. “We’d’ve play that stuff more often if we’d known,” muttered a staggered Brad afterwards. “Neube” slipped into a heavy, moaning, joyous “Weight of Solomon,” another flashback song. Even so, the rhythm of the night was off, and those welcome offerings were bandages rather than the monsters they could have been.
Around one thirty the trio came back onto a smoked in stage with dramatic floor lights rather than spots, and a thinned out crowd, and it was a different show. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “Now art thou jamming, now art thou The Slip; now art thou what thou art, by art as well as by nature.” A seriously reworked version of the formerly a cappella “All I Saw Was You” set the tone with rumbly bass and kicking drums, and most importantly, a comfortable groove. The trio then fell into a screechy, tweaky freak out intro to “Soft Machine” and the music seemed to just pour off the stage. Brad worked out a few nice, midlevel leads, lingering in the center of the sound, and Andrew pummeled out a wildly percussive barrage to close.
A debut cover of Bowie’s “Changes” preceded the centerpiece of the set, a long and emotive “Paper Birds” loaded with spacious pauses and hovering moments. At points the vocals were achingly delicate, and then during the uphill climb toward the final lyrics, the whole audience started singing along with “na-na na-na nana, na-na na-na nana” and the band reached and stretched out the whole final passage, trying not to let it pass on. Just beautiful, beautiful music.
Dana Janssen of Akron/Family then joined on a snare and a high hat for a very welcome “Wolof” that poked and jabbed along before being overrun by a huge double drummer jam that had both Brad and Marc Friedman leave the stage entirely. Long and thoroughly engaging, it was the final outing of the fantastic drumming hat propelled most of the evening’s musical travels. After the strings returned, the trio moved so smoothly into the beautifully Lennon-esque “There’s a Lie”, with Brad on acoustic and Marc shredding on a Fender for a stunning lead- somehow it carried all the weight of his bass.
The New Year’s festivities concluded with a rowdy and rockin’, and funny, “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock n Roll)” into “Poor Boy” back into the AC/DC cover, and of course it too seemed supremely apt for this particular trio of musicians as they look ahead to the new year. They certainly left the last strutting like rock stars. No band deserves it more.