Review: Coral Sky DVD

PHISH - Coral Sky DVD

November 2nd, 1996 has always been a favorite of mine, which is why I was ecstatic to have the opportunity to preview the new DVD Phish will be releasing via Dry Goods on the 19th. Many of you are probably already familiar with this concert from Florida, the first show after the band covered the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light album for Halloween. It’s one of four shows in a row (including Halloween) where percussionist Karl Perazzo sat in the entire show with the band. The DVD is named after the venue, Coral Sky Amphitheater, located in West Palm Beach.

This DVD captures Phish in one of their pinnacle months in one of their pinnacle years. November 1996 has been a recent topic of discussion for me, from the videos you can find in my “Monday Morning Video Pick Me Ups” to the recent article I wrote about Phish’s 1997 funk being foreshadowed.

This show’s setlist alone raises eyebrows; Julius in the 2 slot, Fee -> Taste, mid-set Cavern, 1st set Johnny B. Goode closer, and Antelope as the second song in the 2nd set. This show is quite dynamic in every way a show can possibly be.

Coral Sky Amp.

Set 1: Ya Mar, Julius, Fee -> Taste, Cavern > Stash, The Lizards, Free, Johnny B. Goode
Set 2: Crosseyed and Painless -> Run Like an Antelope, Waste, Harry Hood, A Day in the Life, Sweet Adeline
Encore: Funky Bitch

When you open the DVD case, the two discs are on the right with the setlist and credits on the left; each set is on its respective disc. The sound is phenomenal, obviously–the soundboard recording rings with unmatched sonic crispiness– wonderful on 5.1 Dolby Digital stereos. On the DVD’s top menu you have the option of switching between 5.1 and Stereo sound. However, the one knock on the DVD is that it’s in a 4:3 aspect ratio (you know, the square screen) which I don’t understand, seeing as the Clifford Ball DVDs are in 16:9 ratio (typical wide-screen).

Karl Perazzo (Drummerworld)

When you decide to play the concert, just the white Phish logo shows with a black background eventually giving way to the band walking on stage. Karl is wearing a Tweety Bird cut off, diminishing any thoughts that only Trey wears Loony Toons attire on stage. Fishman starts up a calypso-esque beat with Karl quickly joining. Trey, giddy as can be, looks at everyone before strumming the beginning of Ya Mar. The song was a perfect choice considering the guest on stage, his congas blended seamlessly into the perfect warm-weather tune.

Impressively, Karl blends well in all the songs featured in this DVD; the Julius that follows would seemingly provide quite a challenge for someone on percussion. Karl kept up with the rollercoaster peaks shooting from Trey’s monitors, smashing his own cymbals to accent the band’s orgasmic releases.

There isn’t any type of music Karl couldn’t positively add to, but Phish chose a setlist that suited Karl exceptionally well. The songs he sounds sublime in are Ya Mar, Fee -> Taste, Lizards, and Crosseyed and Painless. The Stash clip below is from the DVD, it snaps right out of Cavern.

The indisputable highlight of this show is what many fans have dubbed “Crosselope”. The second set opens up with Crosseyed and Painless, a song they had just played 2 nights earlier as a part of the Talking Heads’ album they covered. This time they wanted to really explore the song. Phish, with Fish and Karl navigating the jam, stretched this version out to nearly 25 minutes. The song leaves it’s up-tempo and quick structure for a hypnotic and throbbing jam. Accented perfectly by Karl’s blocks, splashes and congas, Mike destroyed the crowed with his bulbous leads–one of the last times he would use his Languedoc bass before switching to his current Modulus Q5.

The jam becomes sinister with cries of “still waiiiiting” floating in the background. As the improvisational craze slowly fades away, the Florida sunshine comes through with the playful beginning of Run Like an Antelope.

Karl's set up (Drummerworld)

Trey’s playful demeanor during the concert is evident as he smiles and winks to both the crowd and his stage peers. His guitar is fresh sounding (like most ’96 shows), his dexterity is unmatched with any year past ’96, arguably. Fishman is on top of his game, and certainly isn’t going to be shown up by his temporary counterpart to stage right. There are even times three people are drumming on stage; the first is during Free when Trey moves to his mini drum kit after looping some distorted sounds with his guitar. Mike takes the lead while Trey drums with the other two and controls his loop via foot pedals. Also, Butch Trucks joins the band during the encore for Funky Bitch, Butch sets up camp on Fish’s set and Fish moves over to Trey’s mini kit while Karl remains on his own.

On top of the impressive musical aspect this DVD boasts, the video provides very robust footage. The camera includes great instrument and band member close up shots, punctuated by entertaining crowd footage. While often times videos shot of live concerts either switch camera shots at a dizzying pace (Phish 3D) or focus too much time on one member, Coral Sky uses proper moderation in all aesthetic aspects making it very pleasant to watch. On all accounts, this is one of the best video releases Phish has treated us to.

The official release date of PHISH – Coral Sky is October 19th, it is available for pre-order HERE. Not only is the 2-disc DVD available for $19.00, so is the CD of the concert for $17.00; for a bundle of both the CD and DVD, it’s $32.00.