Friday, October 28, 2022

Happy 25th Anniversary to Phish's Slip Stitch and Pass

Today marks the 25th anniversary of Phish's official live release Slip Stitch and Pass

So let's take a second to celebrate this record, the second 'official' live release from the jamband legends. Phish followed in the Grateful Dead's tradition of allowing fans to trade tapes of all of their live shows, so there were thousands of hours of live music already circulating from the band. Their most popular official album was A Live One released only three years earlier in 1995. 

While A Live One does a fine job capturing the first era of the band (specifically Summer and Fall 1994) Slip Stitch and Pass was different, it was one concert, the March 1, 1997 show at the Markthalle Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany. The band would start their Live Phish series in 2001, to release individual shows, curated by the band, but this night was special and marked a specific turning point in Phish's playing so they wanted to commemorate the event.

A quick side note before diving into the music...Phish went the classic route with the album art on this release, bringing in Storm Thorgerson who is famous for his work on Pink Floyd's albums. It is interesting that on their least prog-album to this point, they decided to bring in a famous artist tied to the prog scene.  

Phish soundcheck Italy 1997

On to the music, the main change in the band, and fully realized this night, was a focus on what is kindly described as 'Cow Funk' which the band would embrace during 1997 and beyond. This group evolved from the "machinegun Trey", guitar solo orientated playing/more constructed, prog-rock early era songs, towards more free flowing, groove oriented jams. In The Phish Book guitarist Trey Anastasio is quoted as saying:
“What we’re doing now is really more about groove than funk. Good funk, real funk, is not played by four white guys from Vermont. If anything, you could call what we’re doing cow funk or something. I only know when I’m playing it, I feel like a big ass floating in the water”.
This feeling would really reach it's peak later in the year at what RtBE considers the bands best tour, Fall '97. However, that was a few months away and this breakthrough in Hamburg is what we are discussing today. 

The crux of this evolution revolves around the bassist Mike Gordon who turned up in volume, switched to playing a different bass (from a Languedoc to a Modulus), and generally making his presence felt in a larger way then in the past (Side note: bass rules all). While the group is clearly a sum of it's parts, Gordon's stepping out pushed them more into that 'Cow Funk' and they luxuriated in it. 

The first three songs on Slip Stitch and Pass, a cover of the Talking Heads "Cities", the band's own "Wolfman's Brother" and another cover of ZZ Top's "Jesus Left Chicago", are the exhibits A, B and C of the bands new found sound. While the rest of the album is good, with the very unique "Mike's Song" which had the group go silly and dip into The Doors, a blazing "Weekapaug Groove" and a very tight "Taste" finale, the three song opening run is the jelly, and the reason for this release.  The "Wolfman's Brother" jam in particular seems to be the sweet spot the band was luxuriating in and trying to recapture (with great success) the rest of the year. 

This new style brought them even higher as a band and it all started with Slip Stitch and Pass, which remains a great entry point for newbies to the group.  Jambase did a dive last year into the album and has interviews with Mike and Trey at the bottom of the piece if you want more info on the release. 

Play it loudly today, here are those first three tracks to get you started:

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