Phish : Coral Sky

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A marathon show spanning three sets, with one featuring a spot-on reading of the Talking Heads seminal album Remain In Light, would leave most bands reeling for weeks. But Phish have never been like most bands, and the fiery playing that punctuated their Halloween 1996 show in Atlanta, Georgia, continued two days later when the quartet – augmented by percussionist Karl Perazzo (Santana) – landed at Coral Sky Amphitheater in West Palm Beach, Florida, for a breathtaking show that is now unveiled as the two-DVD set Coral Sky.

From the loose Caribbean funk of the opening “Ya Mar,” rife with Perazzo’s layered polyrhythms, the band settles in easily for two sets during which succinct playing and exploratory improvisation abounded. “Fee” brims with tight accents, and guitarist Trey Anastasio leads the band into a ravenous jam during “Stash,” marking the high point of the first set and foreshadowing the fearlessness that marks the second.

From the opening notes of the Talking Heads “Crosseyed and Painless,” debuted two nights prior as part of the Halloween festivities, Phish step into a second set groove that deepens with each bar, the players loosening the lines like spelunkers sliding into a dark, mysterious cave. The intensity continues into “Run Like an Antelope,” this classic improvisational vehicle remaining true to its nature and bristling with prodigious interplay. Following this blazing centerpiece, highlights include  a jubilant run through “Harry Hood,” a pristine reading of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” and an encore cover of Son Seals’ “Funky Bitch” with Allman Brother Butch Trucks on drums.

The sound quality is phenomenal on Coral Sky, and the footage is in 5.1 Dolby Surround or optional PCM Stereo sound audio, mixed from multi-track masters. However, the video, created from archival videotapes of the multi-camera lawn screen feed, is inferior to the sound, and although it captures the energy of the night’s festivities, it does so with the occasional shake and shiver. This poses the only negative in an otherwise impressive package.

In the fall of 1996, Phish were truly hitting their stride; they had successfully made the jump from theatres to arenas, and their style was in a state of flux, eventually leading to their funk phase of the following year. Coral Sky is an invaluable piece of Phish-story documenting this defining time for the Vermont quartet.

Coral Sky is out now on JEMP Records.

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