Auld Lang Syne
Music/Lyrics: Robert Burns
Original Artist: Traditional
"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.
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.
Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, "Auld Lang Syne"
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.
Phish, "Auld Lang Syne" – 12/31/94, Boston, MA
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. 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.” Teases or jams of “ALS” can be found in: 12/30/92 “YEM,” 12/28/93 “Ya Mar,” 12/31/93 “Harry,” 12/28/94 “Weekapaug,” 12/31/94 “Simple,” 12/30/95 “Ya Mar,” 12/31/95 “Weekapaug,” 12/31/97 “Ya Mar,” 12/31/98 “Runaway Jim,” and the 12/30/99 “Weekapaug.” 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.”
Phish, "Auld Lang Syne" – 12/31/95, New York, NY
The full tune is customarily played as the clock strikes midnight on NYE, often accompanied by thrillingly bizarre acts of wizardry. 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 as the record was set for the largest indoor balloon drop (79,627!).
12/31/97 featured more balloons, but this time many of them evoked the “Udder Ball” animation used throughout the show. 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 (of course). 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 the epic seven-plus-hour set of pure molten bliss.
“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. "ALS" rang on without Phish during the break-up, though it did emerge for Trey's Atlantic City gig on 12/31/06 in a midnight sequence featuring "Mr. Completely" > "ALS" > "Wanna Be Startin Somethin'." Phish's return to Miami in 2009 introduced perhaps the greatest gag to date, with 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 "Sarah from Pittsburgh" sitting in for the rest of the show on drums!
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.
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