Auld Lang Syne
Music/Lyrics: Robert Burns
Original Artist: Traditional
Last Update: 2014-01-20
"Auld Lang Syne" – second only to "Happy Birthday" as the most widely known song in the English speaking world – is commonly attributed to Robert Burns, the national poet of Scotland. His lyrics, which may be an amalgamation of the works of several older Scotsmen, were first published in 1796 in James Johnson's Scots Musical Museum and originally set to the tune of "For Old Long Sine my Jo" which bears little resemblance to the modern incarnation of the song.
Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, "Auld Lang Syne"
The original melody first appeared in 1700 and went through several stages of evolution before Burns adorned it with his lyrics. Burns' lyrics were paired with the more famous melody by George Thompson in his 1799 publication A Select Collection of Original Scottish Airs. This second tune, the actual piece performed by Phish (since it is performed without vocals), was originally used as the score for another Burns song entitled "O Can Ye Labor Lea" which is also known (among its many variations) as "I fee'd a lad in Michaelmas" and "I fee'd a man in Martinmas." The popular association of "Auld Lang Syne" with New Years Eve in the United States was cemented by Canadian band leader Guy Lombardo, who first performed the tune for a radio broadcast in 1929.
Phish, "Auld Lang Syne" – 12/31/94, Boston, MA
Though it’s the quintessential New Year’s Eve song, ironically the song was first teased by Trey as a joke at the 5/28/89 “Christmas” gig (the ashes from the outdoor bonfire reminded Trey of snow). Only one other time has “Auld Lang Syne” appeared outside of a holiday run context, surfacing in the middle of “Mike’s Song” at the exceedingly strange show on 3/27/92.
Beginning with New Year’s 1989, “Auld Lang Syne” became a holiday standard and has been featured at every Phish New Year’s run since. “Auld Lang Syne” is customarily played as the clock strikes midnight on NYE, often accompanied by thrillingly bizarre acts of wizardry. The band frequently teases the song in New Year’s run shows outside of its traditional NYE midnight context. The official debut was 12/30/89 as the first encore song before the show-closing “Mike’s Groove.” Notable teases can be found in the 12/31/93 “Harry,” 12/31/94 “Simple,” 12/30/95 “Ya Mar,” 12/31/95 “Weekapaug,” 12/31/97 “Ya Mar,” 12/31/98 “Runaway Jim.” For the 12/31/03 gig it seemed like the urge to unleash “ALS” captivated the band, as teases were present in “Weekapaug,” “YEM,” “First Tube,” and “Chalk Dust.” [Complete listing of ALS teases]. Traditions are also meant to be broken in the Phish world, and “ALS” was not teased outside the midnight performance at either the 2012 or 2013 NYE runs.
12/31/93 featured the band tearing into a – then unfamiliar – “Down with Disease” jam out of “Auld Lang Syne,” and then segueing back into it for a dramatic finale, all within the confines of a stage-sized aquarium. For the 12/31/94 rendition, the band played this tune on smaller instruments from atop a flying hot dog that circled around Boston Garden at the stroke of midnight. On 12/31/95, the band acted out their roles as curators of the Gamehendge Time Factory, a machine without which the world would remain frozen in time. At midnight, the Frankenstein-like machinery on stage was activated, producing a freshly shorn Baby Fishman. On 12/31/96, “Auld Lang Syne” was performed setting the record at the time for the largest indoor balloon drop (79,627!).
Phish, "Auld Lang Syne" – 12/31/95, New York, NY
12/31/97 featured more balloons, but this time many of them evoked the “Udder Ball” animation used throughout that show as set up in the previous evening’s “Harpua.” 12/31/98 also featured balloons, but was a bit of a departure as dancers in organic-themed costumes shimmied about on the terrarium-dressed stage amidst pyrotechnics, taking focus away from the band for once. The legendary 12/31/99 Big Cypress New Year’s show topped them all – not only was “Auld Lang Syne” preceded and accompanied by a massive fireworks display, Father Time, balloons, and the hot dog – the same one from 12/31/94 – but it was followed by an epic seven-plus-hour set of pure molten bliss that stands among – if not the – most Herculean feats in the history of live rock and roll.
“Auld Lang Syne” made one Phish-y appearance during the hiatus, when Page and Vida Blue performed the song on 12/31/01. As Phish triumphantly returned to the stage on 12/31/02 at MSG, so did “ALS.” This time it followed the debut of “Seven Below,” accompanied by “snow angels,” confetti, balloons, dwarfs, and "snow" falling from the MSG rafters. 12/31/03 in Miami introduced more unexpected imagery to accompany “ALS”: a hot-rod-style Austin Mini was lowered from the rafters, from which emerged the Miami Palmetto Senior High School marching band and ‘bunny’ cheerleaders, along with the traditional balloon drop and generalized mayhem.
Phish, “Meatstick” > "Auld Lang Syne" 12/31/10, New York, NY
"ALS" rang on without Phish during the break-up, with every year but 2008 featuring at least one member of Phish performing gigs. Trey's Atlantic City gig on 12/31/06 was notable for a midnight sequence featuring "Mr. Completely" > "ALS" > "Wanna Be Startin Somethin'."
Phish's 2009 New Year’s celebration in Miami featured a "Party Time" > "ALS" combo followed by Fish being shot out of a cannon and through the roof of the arena inside a disco ball... and "Sara from Pittsburgh" sitting in for the rest of the show on drums! You had to be paying attention to catch the gag’s conclusion after the gig (or watch the video), as the disco ball “landed” on a car parked outside the arena that bore a sign ‘This car was driven down from Vermont fueled by maple syrup.”
Phish, “Steam” > "Auld Lang Syne" > “Down with Disease” 12/31/11, New York, NY
The return of NYE to MSG in on 12/31/10 offered another “hybrid” gag, with the son of the return of the hot dog for its third NYE appearance and the second go-round for “Meatstick,” this time accompanied by a broadway-style ark of “international” dancers. Taking flight for the first time since 1994, the band members – as well as street vendors from the stage – hurled replica hot dogs upon the assembled revelers as the hot dog made its flight through MSG, joining the dancers on stage in a Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat Meatstick Extravaganza. “ALS” was followed with another nod to Big Cypress, “After Midnight.”
On 12/31/11 “Steam” provided the midnight intro to “ALS” with Trey kicking off the festivities with a small kettle of steam that soon enveloped MSG. Dancers mimicking fans were suspended throughout the arena, and Mike and Trey floated above the stage on hydraulic lifts before returning earth-bound to perform “ALS,” for the fifth time punctuated with “Down with Disease.”
Phish, “Kung” > “Chalk Dust Torture” > “Auld Lang Syne” > “Tweezer Reprise” 12/31/12, New York, NY
The 2012 MSG celebration was more subtle as the band staged a more leisurely and upscale “Garden Party.” The entire stage and floor of the arena was covered in artificial turf; before the gig actors played garden sports including croquet, badminton, and mini-golf, while a few more "sunbathed" on a riser behind the stage. For the midnight set “Party Time” opened the door to “Kung” and Trey, golf club in hand, invoking a literal Runaway Golf Cart Marathon with golf carts furiously circling the stage to “Chalk Dust Torture.” “ALS” rang in 2013 followed by a blistering “Tweezer Reprise” with Carrie Manolakos and other backing singers adding powerful vocals. The gag continued thematically for the rest of the garden party-themed set – ”Sand,” “The Wedge,” “Fly Like an Eagle,” “Wilson,” “Lawn Boy” and an encore of “Driver,” “Iron Man.” The only oversight in this golf-themed set was bypassing the best opportunity ever to bust out “In a Hole.” D’oh!
NYE 2013-14 threw a curveball at “Auld Lang Syne” when the NYE “gag” – the JEMP Truck Set – had wrapped up before the midnight countdown. “Gag” is really the wrong word in this case, though, as the 30th anniversary of the band that had past earlier in the month was celebrated with a four-show run all Phish originals, punctuated by the decidedly old-school truck-top second set on NYE that overflowed the room with honesty and brilliance and reflection of the amazing journey that is the history of Phish. This front-loading allowed for a low-stress traditional balloon drop, with “Character Zero” opening the door for “ALS” and in what has become somewhat of a tradition opening the year with a new song, Wingsuit’s “Fuego.” The pressure of the “gag” behind them set up one of the best third sets in recent memory, including excellent versions of “Light,” “Twenty Years Later” and “You Enjoy Myself.”
Phish, “Character Zero” > "Auld Lang Syne" > “Fuego” 12/31/13, New York, NY
Despite the assertion that it is the second most familiar song in the Anglican canon, "Auld Lang Syne" has been described as "the song that nobody knows" with its frequently Scotch whisky-besotted and Haggis-fattened revelators adding their own lyrical variations, thereby making it the Scottish equivalent of "Louie Louie;" perhaps explaining why Phish performs it only as an instrumental.