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Elektra slips live set to the Phish faithful

(ran GB, TP editions)

Elektra Entertainment is confident that Phish fans are eagerly waiting to take the bait as it drops Slip Stitch and Pass, the second live album from the wildly successful touring act, into the retail marketplace this week.

Even more exciting for the band's followers _ referred to as Phish heads _ is the announcement that this is only the first in a series of experimental live and studio albums planned to be released intermittently in forthcoming years.

Phish bassist Mike Gordon says the band plans to use the series as an outlet for a variety of creative projects.

Though he is careful to emphasize that there are no concrete plans for what will come next, he does say that members are considering material from three free-form studio jam sessions.

"We have no idea what we're going to do with it," he says of the material from the sessions. "Maybe we'll release it as is or edit it or take it apart. We feel that we're in a good position because we don't have anything to prove. What we want to do, since we don't have to do anything in particular, is experiment."

The decision to release another live album first, says Gordon, is partially based on the desire to provide a better-quality live recording than what is available on the thousands of tapes circulated by fans.

The group's next studio set is tentatively slated to be released in the spring of 1998.

Phish makes a Nov. 7 appearance on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.

The band begins its fall/winter tour Nov. 13 in Las Vegas. Phish caps off 1997 with shows Dec. 30 and 31 at New York's Madison Square Garden.

While Phish has not traditionally been an airplay favorite, its last album, 1996's Billy Breathes, which has sold 392,000 copies, according to SoundScan, spawned the band's first breakthrough radio track. Free peaked at No. 11 and No. 24 on the Mainstream Rock Tracks and Modern Rock Tracks charts, respectively.

Gordon says the album, which is composed entirely of highlights from a March 1 performance at Hamburg club the Markthalle, was selected by guitarist/vocalist Trey Anastasio for its sound quality and distinctive vibe.

"Trey went through a lot of tapes from different years to see what was out there and kept coming back to this one night," says Gordon. "It was the first month of that tour, and we really felt like we were onto something new. We were really just being funky rather than always trying to go into the cosmos. We experimented with some new grooves, and because it was a bar gig, it was really low-key and relaxed."

Evidence of the night's loose theme is found in Phish's stab at the popular barbershop quartet number Hello My Baby.

Gordon says the preponderance of covers on the album _ they represent one-third of its tracks _ also helped the band render a playful performance.

"We've never felt like we had to prove that our music is great, but that night was especially that way because we were playing a lot of other people's music," says Gordon. "We've always just tried to have fun, and that night seemed to be the best representation of that. It wasn't the biggest or the deepest, but it was the most fun."

According to Billboard's sister publication Amusement Business, Phish grossed more than $12-million during 19 shows this year.

A two-day festival in August at the former site of Loring Air Force Base in Limestone, Maine, dubbed the Great Went, took in more than $4-million.

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