PHISH -- Slip Stitch and Pass (Elektra)

Slip Stitch and Pass is the second live album released by Phish, and the first installment in a series of live and experimental releases to complement their studio recordings. As anyone who has seen the band in concert knows, Phish's studio albums don't come close to doing the band justice. To get the full experience, you have to see them perform live. They have an enormous amount of material (less than half of it is available commercially), not counting the scores of covers they play (three are included here). You could easily go to three or four shows in a row and not hear the same song performed twice.

Slip Stitch and Pass contains excerpts from the March 1, 1997 show in Hamburg, Germany. All but three of the cuts are previously unreleased. They open the show with a slow rendition of Talking Heads' "Cities," then (on the CD) go into an extended version of "Wolfman's Brother" from the band's 1994 disc, Hoist. This song really comes alive in concert, compared to the studio version.

After "Wolfman's Brother," they seamlessly segue into another of the many highlights on the CD--a cover of the ZZ Top's "Jesus Just Left Chicago." Guitarist Trey Anastasio's solo on this track is amazing. Up next is "Weigh." This is the only track to skip on the CD. Looking at the setlist from the actual concert, there are several songs that would have made a better choice here.

The thing that Phish phans will be most excited about on the new CD is the commercial debut of "Mike's Groove." "Mike's Groove" is (normally) a trio of unreleased songs that the band has been playing in concert for over 10 years. This is an excellent version too--both in terms of the performance and the 'surprises.' Starting with "Mike's Song," the jamming by everyone is spectacular. Then come the surprises.

Phish is known to 'tease' bits of other songs (both originals and covers) while they're performing. After another great Anastasio jam in "Mike's Song," you'll hear parts of The Doors' "The End" and Pink Floyd's "Careful With That Axe, Eugene." Then in place of the usual second part of 'the groove', "I am Hydrogen," comes "Lawn Boy"--featuring a solo by bassist Mike Gordon. 'The groove' comes to a close with a killer version of "Weekapaug Groove," featuring the closing section of The Rolling Stones' "Can't You Hear Me Knocking." Stones fans will wish they were playing this on their current tour after hearing Phish do it.

Another thing that makes them such a great band is the way they can play in so many different musical styles. Following "Mike's Groove" is an entertaining take on the barber shop quartet standard, "Hello My Baby." Performed acapella and without mics, you can hear the newbies in the crowd laughing, while the phans tell them to be quiet. The CD ends with a track from last year's excellent Billy Breathes album, "Taste." This version is a bit disappointing if you've ever experienced it in concert. It sounds too polished.

The band hasn't announced any definite plans for future releases in the series yet, but if this one is any indication, Phish phans are gonna be in for a treat. If you've never heard Phish perform live, this a great place to start.

© 1997 Steve Marshall