Northerly 1: A Flow Show

Night 1 of Northerly has garnered an interesting early reaction from the fanbase.

In real time, and immediately after the show, everyone seemed to love the second set, praising its “flow.” Cut to this morning, and people were more divided. A scan of a thread reveals terms like “weird,” “interesting,” and “had its moments” alongside the praise.

So which was it?

Photo by Dave Vann © Phish 2014.

Well, as tends to be the case with polarizing shows: a bit of both.

When “flow” is the word most commonly used to describe a set, it usually means that the set favored songs over jams. This time, that was only half-true: though there was no single monster jam to act as centerpiece, the second set did feature excellent takes on “Golden Age” and “Piper,” plus “Wombat” threw its first curveball. That said, the Flow-Based Set descriptor is accurate, as many of the second set’s most memorable moments were segues and song selections.

Back to all that in a moment. First, a quick word about the first set. The first 2/3 of the opening set was forgettable, save for a lovely version of “Reba” marked by sustained lyrical notes from Trey. Setlist-wise, the set recovered, with the powerful closing 1-2-3 punch of “ASIHTOS,” “Stash,” and “The Squirming Coil.” None of these was a best-of version, but all were solidly played, and surely elevated many fans’ setbreak spirits after an extended string of lackluster song choices.

Photo by Rene Heumer © Phish 2014.

The second set opened with the tour’s second “Golden Age,” and, following New York’s brief version, the first jammed-out rendition since the huge versions from Hartford and Hampton last fall. This one never strayed too far from the song’s structure, keeping things grooving. Fishman was the undeniable MVP of this jam, dancing across his kit with the mix of incredible energy and total control that he’s shown all tour.

Things finally spaced out, leading to the first “Mango Song” since last summer, followed by “Sand.” Hopes were high for a huge version, now that the tune was back in the second set, but they were quickly crushed when Trey pulled the rug out on the jam in its early stages, abruptly beginning “Piper.”

After this offense to the God of Segues, the band had to make a sacrifice to appease Her, and boy, did they make one with their transition into “Halley’s Comet.” A segue into “Halley’s” doesn’t even seem possible — after all, it’s a song that starts from nothing, with Mike’s a cappella intro. But, following a “Piper” jam that featured the finest full-band interplay of the night, Fishman began an upbeat rhythm, and Trey started beeping. And, like the best segues in history, this one just seemed to come from out of nowhere. Suddenly, we were in “Halley’s.”

If you were hoping the triumphant segue would result in a similarly triumphant jam, well, maybe keep hoping. This “Halley’s” didn’t even have any F to stay on. But “Wombat” was a good consolation, and this particular “Wombat” was a fantastic one. It shed its “Wombat” suit, and found a rapid, major-key jam that almost sounded like “Water in the Sky.”

Photo by Rene Heumer © Phish 2014.

Following the versions we’ve heard earlier this tour, the opening notes of “Chalk Dust Torture” might have signaled that more jamming was ahead. But it was not to be: the song returned to its straight-ahead-rocker role before yielding the road to a lovely “Slave” set closer.

After the first two shows at Randall’s Island, there was plenty of relisten-worthy material to sift through, plenty of positive words being spoken and written, and full satisfaction among most of the fanbase. And then the band came out and dropped Randall’s 3, and the excellent preceding nights were temporarily forgotten. Though last night’s show was quite good, I strongly suspect that the band’s got some musical tricks up their sleeves that will once again leave us saying, come Monday, “Wait, didn’t they play some cool shit the first night, too?”