The Encore Everyone Saw Coming

It’s been some time since I’ve been to a stadium rock and roll show (pre-American Idiot Greenday I think). I guess it’s just not my thing; with the high ticket prices, overhyped bands, fireworks, and smoke machines. Not that there’s anything wrong with all these theatrics, I think bringing some of this stuff back into the small club show would be cool (as Allie Hughes and the Revolts have done). Stadium shows just seem boring and predictable. They usually end with the band pretending the show is over, only to come back out and play a few more songs. Sometimes they to two or three encores. The Cure have been known to play up to five encores, which to me sounds like a recurring nightmare.

Encores first began spontaneously when a crowd would continuously cheer until the music started up again, nowadays big bands plan their encores to accommodate noise curfews and crowd expectations. I think there’s something to be said in favour of a clean ending, leaving the audience wanting more rather then leaving them bored with aching legs. I’ve always admired bands with shows that never allow themselves to get cold, shows where I never check the time. I remember after seeing a perfect Against Me! show at the Legion Hall in my hometown Kingston, the crowd was chanting for songs that were missed. Eventually Warren (the drummer) came out and said that they were done, thanks. Ballsy move. But the show was perfect, why needlessly extend it?

“(if) anything starts getting static, I start getting uncomfortable. What happened with hardcore, or whatever, is that things get so ritualized, they become, they’re no longer powerful, they loose their power, they’re not dangerous anymore, they don’t excite people, they don’t move people anymore. They just become some kind of traditional thing, which people can just slip on the clothes, slip on an attitude. For me it’s a life thing, if it’s gonna be a life thing for me, it has to constantly be moving forward and have some kind of a time dimension to it.”

Guy Picciotto, on the Fugazi documentary “Instrument”

Obviously Guy is taking about hardcore shows, not stadium encore fake outs, but I think the principle is the same. If everything is expected, ritualized, and planned it’s going to be boring and loose it’s meaning. I’m sure in the beginning encores were amazing. The crowd just saw an awesome show and they continued to cheer, which actually brought back the band and made them improvise a set. Now it’s kinda just a stupid gesture, similar to when a rock band says “I can’t hear you!!!” to insight the crowd to cheer more, it’s all a bit of a farce.

Fugazi continues to be the benchmark for live shows; with their improvised set list, passionate delivery, and crazy stage movement. Everything about their show is unpredictable and unplanned, that’s what made them so exciting. What I enjoyed so much about the Against Me! show was how every member in the small audience sung along to every word of every song while the slammed into each other and piled onto each other, all in some stingy Legion Hall without bouncers or security. A show can be more than just hearing some songs you like, and it’s more than a planned theatrical music circus touring from town to town.

On wikipedia, it claims that at Jimmy Buffet concerts, the encore is where Jimmy plays his unpopular but awesome ballad songs acoustically. It’s his hardcore fanbase’s favourite part of the set, since the song changes every night. Maybe this is a cool use of the encore? I have no idea, but it sounds better then just more songs.