O Canada

Originally Performed ByCalixa Lavallee
MusicCalixa Lavallée
Lyrics ByAdolphe-Basile Routhier (French); Robert Stanley Weir (English)
Phish Debut2017-08-01
Last Played2017-08-01
Current Gap127
HistorianEllis Godard (lemuria)
Last Update2017-08-18


“O Canada” was composed by Calixa Lavallée, a “pioneer in music” both north and south of the border, who learned piano at a young age, travelled the world, and fought in the U.S. Civil War. In later life, he became an educator and administrator in Quebec, where he was tapped in 1880 to compose a replacement for several unofficial national anthems, including “The Maple Leaf Forever.”

But while the latter may have better fit the night’s maple donut theme in title, it “essentially celebrates British military victories in Canada and the manner in which they ostensibly united the country” - a contentious claim, and hardly fitting for a confectionary celebration.

“O Canada”, by contrast, is full of pride in self-reliance, accomplishments, and promise. Taboot, it was first performed in a skating rink, and didn’t get formal respect until 1980, when it was finally and formally made the national anthem - altogether more fitting for a self-reliant, largely ignored band with some great rink show notches in its belt.

”O Canada” 

The lyrics have their own twisting history, including several iterations of English translations from the French original (which themselves have not changed, but which are less religious and more dogmatically patriotic). But Phish dodged that mess, delivering an instrumental version to open the ninth of the Baker’s Dozen shows.

The Trey-heavy performance sounded a bit like Jimi Hendrix playing a Queen ballad, a loose hollowbody delivery of what Lavallee wrote as “a formal march in a stately tempo” with “the same melodic outline [as] the second act of Mozart’s Magic Flute.” Having disavowed that classical provenance, Trey followed his ringing guitar version of a powerfully lyric song with subtle but hilarious irony in the opening lyric of the subsequent “Crowd Control”: “Listen now, I’m talking.”

”O Canada” 8/1/17 New York, NY

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