Why Do We Still Bother With Encores?

Since it'd be an incredibly trite way to open this rant, I won't consult the fine works of Merriam and Webster and bore you with the definition of an encore. Like you, I already know the word's meaning. Unfortunately, I'm also aware of what encores have become.

From what I've seen, they're what an artist does at the end of a show, merited or not, when they leave the stage for a few minutes to indulge in the audience's halfhearted cheers, only to re-emerge before their fans like some sort of doting king and play the songs everyone expects them to play because those songs are their biggest hits and were curiously absent from the main set.

It's an ugly offering—one made only uglier by the fact that, if you catch a glimpse of an artist's set list during, before or after a performance, you'll see it's scripted. Regardless of how the show goes, whether it's a good performance or whether the crowd really wants to keep listening, it happens every time. The encore is literally written in ink before it happens.

I'm not sure when this became the norm, when artists simply started writing encores into their set lists. I'm more concerned with the why. And I've yet to find a satisfying answer to why these offerings have become the norm.

In theory encores shouldn't be a normal thing. They should be something doled out only once in a while as a special treat, the reward an artist offers when an audience is so moved by the performance that it demands more. And not just with a few cheers, either—it should be a reception that genuinely overwhelms the performer and makes them feel forced to return to stage, if not as a means to exit the venue with limbs intact, then as gratitude for an especially exuberant audience's exceptional response.

Instead, the encore has become a safe haven for artists to place their most crowd-pleasing songs, likely as a way of ensuring that the set ends on a high note, that everyone in the crowd leaves the venue pleased.

Surely, the fact that the performers receive a short breather before the encore performance is a factor here. Fine. There's no arguing that an hour-long, or sometimes two-hour-long, performance is tiring. And there's no sense in denying performers a breather or two. The encore has completely replaced the intermission in this sense, which is crazy because if you're going to play music for me for two hours, I really don't mind if you need a breather halfway in to make sure that the second half isn't terrible.

But if you're going to take a break and come back for just one or two songs—and your biggest, most popular songs, no less—I'm not OK with that.

Encores just flat-out should not be expected. When they are, it takes away the excitement of seeing one and removes any sense of spontaneity. We've all been there: If you're seeing Lady Gaga live and she says goodnight and thanks the audience for coming, and then leaves the stage before playing "Bad Romance" or "Poker Face," you know exactly what's going to happen; in two minutes, she'll return and play those songs.

This happened a few weeks back at Club Dada, when buzzing electronic performer Chaz Bundick's Toro y Moi project performed to a sold-out venue. A shy performer who speaks into his microphone only as a last resort, Bundick thanked the crowd and waved goodbye an hour or so into his set and started to make his way off-stage, only to be overwhelmed by the crowd response, to be heard audibly saying "Whoa!" and to return just moments later. No doubt the crowd felt like it had a special effect on Bundick.

The song he played when he came back? It was "Blessa," easily his most popular.

Was he really going to not play that song? In what world?

Well, two worlds, far as I can tell—one in which Bundick's a huge jerk, who won't play his biggest hits, or one where he's kind of a pompous asshole, who, heading into his performance, expects the crowd to want more when he's ready to pretend that he's finished.

When you break it down like that, the performer comes out terribly either way.

I'm kind of surprised that so many of them still place themselves into these scenarios—if only begrudgingly. And, yes, that happens, too: At another performance a few weeks back—I'm blanking on which, but I want to say that it was Lou Barlow at The Loft—the performer, before leaving the stage for an encore, even joked over the P.A. system that the band was "going to go over to the side of the stage for a minute, wait for your applause, and then come right back out." Further, the act joked that they might be leaving, but that it might be in the audience's best interest to remain in their places.

A cute ploy, but what the crap? If you know you're coming back, why even bother leaving in the first place? Or, worse, pretending to do so?

1
 
2
 
All
 
Next Page »
 
My Voice Nation Help
49 comments
Banway22
Banway22

I saw SOAD last night and they played for about 2 hours and left. T was awesome we were cold,heard them play, rocked out to a 29 song set and they were done!i

DeathBreath
DeathBreath

Once, in the distant city of Odessa, Texas, I watched a performance of the Killer, Jerry Lee Lewis, for about 30 minutes. Then, Mr. Lewis, got up from his piano & kicked his piano bench clear across the stage before exiting. The venue was hardly full that night. Furthermore, Chubby Checker delivered an outstanding performance prior to the Killer's tantrum. So, encores don't always happen.

What
What

"Well, two worlds, far as I can tell—one in which Bundick's a huge jerk, who won't play his biggest hits, or one where he's kind of a pompous asshole, who, heading into his performance, expects the crowd to want more when he's ready to pretend that he's finished.

When you break it down like that, the performer comes out terribly either way."

If those are the only two conclusions you can come too, then thank God your Sherlock Holmes deductive skills are confined to the Dallas Observer. Also, why is it bad for a performer to save their most popular song for the end? Are you saying that it is bad "...that everyone in the crowd leaves the venue pleased."? I'm sorry, I wasn't aware that artists were supposed to make a crowd feel cheated and disappointed. Thank you for the clarification. I am truly sorry your Draconic interpretation of the word encore does not live up to your standards. The overwhelmingly vast majority of artists will continue to save their crowd-pleasers for the end.

Also, saving the "best for last" is carried through a variety of other mediums, including speeches, essays, and pretty much every other form of print or spoken media. You yourself practice this, leaving a cutesy jibe to make readers remember a performance more lackluster than any shows you may have attended / attempted to review. If an artist (or a writer, politician, etc.) immediately placed their key point in the beginning, why would anyone care to hear the rest?

Joe Jones
Joe Jones

That's not his point though is it? He's not saying it's bad to save the best for last, he's saying why not just play it last then walk off? Why do it in an encore? Encores are meant to be called for not expected as a courtesy.

Crake
Crake

Saw Queens of the Stone Age in Montreal last week. While I'm sure they had a couple of songs planned for the encore, they had a couple of band meetings between songs on stage to decide what to play; made clearer by Josh saying "We're just going to kind of wing it from here." The encore in Toronto the next night? Six totally different songs. Also, if you don't do an encore, it may be more rock n' roll as you say, but it'still fucking disappointing.

Wryman
Wryman

I forget who it was... but they said we're just going to keep playing rather than leave and come back ( some jam band ). I go see bands like Phish, Widespread Panic and Gov't Mule. Yes they do encores. But since they don't have "A Big Hit Single" they don't feel compelled to "save" a song for the encore. Or even to play the same song two or three nights in a row.Encores for these acts,sometimes, are special moments for artist and fan alike. Many of the "Popular" acts are totally scripted. There is no feel of spontaneity, especially if you have downloaded a previous show from a tour ( even the 'ad-libbed" jokes are scripted ). My favorite bands make the audience guess what is going to happen next, and often bring surprise and joy even when the audience is wrong. At Phish and Panic shows it's a popular game trying to guess set openers/encore songs/guests/and will they play a certain song. Most acts, with just a little research, you can have the whole setlist with maybe a one or two song variation weeks before they visit your town (which, I suppose, is comfortable for someone who only goes to "big-ticket look who I'm going to see " events. You know the sort of shows I'm talking about). So, either pick better shows, or follow the script.

Surewood
Surewood

This is an obvious rip off of what Slug in Atmosphere is posting videos about on youtube in the family therapy sessions. At least Slug makes valid points.

yoitsadrian
yoitsadrian

I agree with some aspects that "the" encore has lost it's meaning. The encore has become expected. What would be funny is if the band scheduled in an encore and then everyone left leaving the band thinking "what the hell just happened."

The last band that I didn't see do an encore was Flyleaf at HOB. The last band that had the most calculated encore was Anberlin at HOB. The last band I saw that had the most original encore was Needtobreathe, in which the guys came out performed songs acoustic...completely ACOUSTIC...no mics, nothing. It was incredible to hear the natural sounds and instruments radiate through a super packed room.

Amazing.

Adrian

Aaron Hungwell
Aaron Hungwell

Hipster douche writer is a douche. Please, go on and mention obscure indie bands as examples....and please be sure to drop SXSW for additional "street cred"!

I like encores
I like encores

Yeah, I hate it when I pay for something and get more than I expected, it's such a drag to get more bang for my buck. What a douche, I hope the Observer didn't actually pay this hack for this steaming pile of words.

Todd
Todd

Ya'll need to check out a Drive-By Trucker rawk show. No setlist, one of the three singers plays whatever they feel fits at that particular moment. A bottle of Jack gets passed around on stage. If you're down front, they might even share with you. Some of you old fornicators may want to say home as the encores can go upward of 45 minutes, depending how on fire the crowd is.

acetaminophen
acetaminophen

The problem is that it's expected now. You'd feel cheated if you didn't get an encore. I think the only way an artist could do without it would be to warn the audience ahead of time: "We think encores are stupid so this really is our last song, but we love you, you've been a great audience..." The coolest encore I've ever heard about was Hank Williams, Sr. playing the Grand Ole Opry for the first time in 1949. The audience called him out for six encores of his hit single "Lovesick Blues". He literally played the same song back-to-back 6 times. And then the audience had to be implored not to call him back out again so that the show could go on. If only encores today still meant something like that...

Phillip Bohn
Phillip Bohn

Why do you bother having your article on two pages instead of one when more than two thirds of the article is on page one?

If I click at the bottom of the page like an idiot maybe you'll come back and write more. I'm tired of this trend.

Valid
Valid

More pages = more advertising impressions.

TotallyRandomMan
TotallyRandomMan

Nine Inch Nails skipped the encores a few years back; instead offering a solid 2 hours of awesomeness. It was much appreciated by this fan. Of course, they went back to doing encores a few years later, but hey.. at least it kept us guessing.

Floodcontrol
Floodcontrol

I'm not entirely convinced. Sounds like you've never been to a concert with less than a hundred people in attendance.

John Mc
John Mc

Bravo! How I have longed for an artist to say "I don't want to waste your or my time walking off stage. No encores, just music.". I understand that Jack Ingram doesn't do encores, saying "if you need an encore, I haven't done my job."

lolwut
lolwut

I saw Godspeed You! Black Emperor last weekend...2h40m, no encore, total bliss.

Libra
Libra

So, they just played their most crowd pleasing song?

Thelonious
Thelonious

It's called showbiz - it's a pattern that makes people feel like they got more than they did. It's part of the show - do you complain because the lead singer's girl didn't really break his heart?

The break before the encore also gives the musicians a chance to rest their fingers and ears, get a drink (or whatever) and recharge their batteries a bit. That way they can close strong even if it's been a long show.

Some comedians (for example) work very hard at making a scripted show seem off-the-cuff and improvised - same thing, in a way - it's a way of making the audience happier.

Magicians are also known for scripting 'accidents' into their shows that are actually part of the deception (or just entertainment - see David Copperfield and the binoculars)

Also, the phenomenon described in the article is common in pop/rock but not the same in other genres or off the mainstream. Some bands very pointedly don't use preconceived setlists. Classical musicians often don't give encores unless the crowd is particularly enthusiastic.

hirdt
hirdt

Completely agreed. I can't believe it's taken so long for me to encounter actual writing about this.

The encore has just become an opportunity for those who expect it to charge ahead to closer standing positions as the rest of the audience loosens up. That is the height of its usefulness. The rest of it is very cheap-feeling.

Kjella
Kjella

That's why we have Devin Townsend, who just makes encores into a big, delightful joke.

MoJ
MoJ

Well I've often thought about what would happen if we didn't cheer and I refuse to do this now. It also annoys me greatly.

Kaiser
Kaiser

If the lights aren't on, the show isn't over.

Canyon Read
Canyon Read

This is EXACTLY what I think every time i go to a concert. EVERY. TIME.It's annoying.

Allison B.
Allison B.

i 100% agree with the author's position. it feels so cheap to stand around hollering when the band leaves the stage when you KNOW that your response has no bearing on the encore... my favorite encore moment was when i saw explosions in the sky in baltimore. i think most people in the church (awesome venue) were genuinely moved by their performance when calling out for an encore. they came back, but only to say that it was an honor to be so well-received but that there was a noise curfew, they were exhausted, and the length of their songs don't lend themselves to encores. and then everyone went on their merry way.

Mwaster
Mwaster

Tool has a gimmick where they finish the show and sit on stage in plain sight before standing up to perform their encore.

MoJ
MoJ

How is that a gimmick? At least they aren't pretending to leave. Thus this is the exact opposite of what the author is complaining about. Also they hang out on stage AFTER the show (you know with the lights on, when it actually is finished not when Mwaster here thinks it's over) and mingle, often communicating with fans via hand signals.

I've seen TooL many times and don't recall being annoyed with them at all. They don't withhold hits for this type of stunt. How dare you lump them in with Lady Gaga. Granted their latest albums are crap and I'd rather they leave them until the end so I can leave eary and beat the rush.

Jani Lane
Jani Lane

Latest albums are crap? You're an idiot.

JonnyForever
JonnyForever

I'm with you; "encores" have become super lame.

Recently I was at a show in a very small venue... maybe 50 people were there and I think half of us (including myself) had never even heard of the band before. Yet they still went through the motions of having an encore. It's just ridiculous, innit?

The problem is that people expect them now, so a band/performer that doesn't do them would be seen as not giving their all (or some such nonsense.)

Thatsplunkintalk
Thatsplunkintalk

EELS always had the best encores, they would come out after the lights were up and only about 20 people were still sticking around.

Cory
Cory

Encores are lame. That aside, I really liked your ending Pete.

LauraDidntSay
LauraDidntSay

I'm in Phoenix and saw What Laura Says do their most recent album release here last year.. I watched them complete their set, leave the stage, and then come back on even though nobody had continued to clap or yell for an encore. Nobody was angry to hear more of them, or anything, but it was like.. Oh - if you guys wanted to play more songs, you should have just said so.

Unique2100
Unique2100

This is because you listen to really shitty commercial music. It's devoid of all things good and even the shows are terrible formulas. Don't rip on music in general because you have shitty taste.

Sean Roberts
Sean Roberts

Toro Y Moi and Lou Barlow are really shitty commercial music? Read the whole article.

Al Nowicki
Al Nowicki

This enrages me so. I went to a concert, Hey Rosetta, I was shocked when they left the stage after an hour, saying goodnight, thanks all that crap. Then they come on for not one song, not two, not three, but four. FOUR SONGS!!! A thirty minute encore, are you f**king kidding me! I hate it!

Josh
Josh

My favorite band, Brand New, rarely if ever play their top songs at shows. I've heard their biggest hit twice out of the dozen or so times I've seen them. Furthermore, their encores are typically some acoustic song, or some amazing instrumental creation. Never one of their singles or anything I've heard by them that made it to the radio.

Manchester Orchestra is kindof the same deal. A bit.

Darren Leamy
Darren Leamy

Welsh rockers Manic Street Preachers simply don't play encores. They end their set with their biggest hit and walk off the stage. I've been to loads of their gig and always beat the crowd out the door... since they're just standing there waiting for them to come back onstage!!

Actually, the ONLY time they've ever played an encore was when they played for Fidel Castro in Cuba. But that was a truly special occasion.

crlove
crlove

Saw a Sarah McLachlan show recently where she actually had an intermission halfway through. Also, her "opening act" was her two backup singers, who each sang a few of their songs interspersed throughout the show with McLachlan as a backup singer to whichever one was singing. She still did the obligatory encore, but the rest of the show was a nice twist on a typical concert, and something I wish more artists and bands would do

bronstomp
bronstomp

I can honestly say that we don't plan encores. one show i didn't want to go back out on stage, my throat was raw, but we literally had no choice. It was demanded. And well, isn't that a beautiful thing?

Josh
Josh

But didn't they demand it more because they knew you hadn't played the song they came to hear?

Bill
Bill

Phish is definitely the only band I've seen lately that utilizes the Encore correctly. It's always different and sometimes a great surprise. In the case of Hartford 2010, they encored Tweezer Reprise with hilarious fun involved...so much fun they opened the next night's show in Saratoga with the same song!

Will
Will

My girlfriend and I saw Ingrid Michaelson at the 930 Club in Washington DC a few months ago, and at the end of the set Ingrid told the audience that instead of walking off the stage and coming right back, she and the band would just hide. So they all huddled under this big black blanket for a minute while the crowd cheered for them to come back, then flung off the blanket like some big surprise. The encore, while it may have been scripted, was a punk-rock styled version of her hit "Be OK," which my girlfriend and I both agreed was awesome. I thought it was a pretty great ending to the show, just because it was a little different than most.

podunk
podunk

Roger Waters is a perfect example of an encore properly done... during his recent performances of The Wall, he has not been doing encores at all.

Mexico got a special surprise when his band performed, as an encore, a popular Spanish parody of "Another Brick in the Wall, Part II."

MusicGroz
MusicGroz

Good example would be Tool. They don't do one and I think it's better for the experience. Unless you're like Phish and you know how to do an encore occasionally.

Chris Langlinais
Chris Langlinais

I completely agree. I'd much rather it be merit-based. It really bothers me when I go see Fair to Midland and after the set, the people chant "FTM!" for about 15 seconds and then talk amongst themselves until the band comes out. I say recall the encore until it returns to what it's supposed to be. Most of my favorite bands change the setlist every night, and you're just as likely to hear 10 or 11 of your favorite songs as you are to hear 1 or 2. As for the biggest hits, I've seen Counting Crows 3 times and they only played "Round Here" once and "Mr. Jones" once. And all of the shows had pre-planned encores though one show the encore was "Hanginaround" which was their single at the time, so I guess that kinda doesn't count.

Princesscowboy
Princesscowboy

It would really bother bother me if I went to see Fair to Midland.

Lindsay
Lindsay

I suppose those that attend shows rarely get a kick out of the encore, but it seems so pointless. I actually am more appreciative in a way when left applauding and cheering and the band just is all "Nope. done." a la John Congleton or the one time I saw Bill Callahan.

 

Concert Calendar

  • April
  • Fri
    18
  • Sat
    19
  • Sun
    20
  • Mon
    21
  • Tue
    22
  • Wed
    23
  • Thu
    24
Dallas Event Tickets
Loading...