Imagine you're on a date and you're telling a story. It's a long one, but you know it's a winner. Everyone always loves this story. Three quarters of the way to the punch line, you notice a shift in your date's behavior. They're glancing at the door, bouncing their leg or messing with their hair. Do they want a cigarette? Do they need another drink to quell their anxiety? Have they been hit with a bout of explosive diarrhea?
Moments like these separate perceptive and considerate people from torturous, self-indulgent-asshole ones. The first will recognize the proper social cues and say something like, "Hey, let's grab another drink, and I'll finish this in a minute." The latter, however, will continue endlessly flapping their tight red gums, concentrating on themselves and their immediate needs.
The risk with going to see live music is remarkably similar. There's a widespread plague of masturbatory steamrollers out there, lacking the concern necessary to be properly entertaining. Worst of all, these self-obsessed morons don't even realize they're sabotaging themselves as they watch their crowd mysteriously trickle out of the room.
You write music for yourself. You perform it for other people. Anyone who says otherwise has no business playing their meticulous mess in front of anyone but their dejected parents.
Yeah, yeah -- there are exceptions. We get it. Prolific headliners, jazz music -- which is already too esoteric for anyone to enjoy anyway -- and any act taking the stage an hour before the bar closes. But for the rest of you oblivious, plodding know-nothings, here are six reasons no band should play longer than twenty minutes.
6. Everyone Is Bored
Your set started out as a total ripper, but by the tenth minute we're all tired of watching your bassist whip their ratty hair around in circles while you take two minutes to tune your garbage guitar between songs. With that ridiculous pedal board, we wouldn't have been able to tell if you were out of tune anyway. Now, do the right thing and don't play your fifteen-minute Kraut-rock take on the Wipers' "Youth of America" to people who already feel bad about wanting to leave after your fourth song.
5. People Will Miss Your Set
Strange as it seems, there are some sublime advantages to having people miss your set. If they're your friends, you can guilt trip them for missing out while they were standing outside, smoking and talking to some asshole they want to have sex with who has a blue streak dyed into their hair. You can then use these feelings of guilt you've inspired in them for things like free drinks, food, smokes or even drag them out to see you at future shows.
If they're strangers and you actually do what you're supposed to (play from your fucking heart), they'll hear for the next month about how bad they screwed up by missing the legendary time your drummer drank a shot glass full of fire ants and head-butted God.
4. You'll Look Good Even If You Aren't
Remember that band who played for an hour before you? Yeah. You're not them. You may be ill-prepared and have only one speaker on your guitar cabinet that works, but at least you had the courtesy to recognize your place in the lineup. Play a short set and watch as you evolve from "most hated band" on the bill to "second most hated band" on the bill, as easy as that.
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3. Leave Them Wanting More
Like it or not, there's something to this whole law-of-scarcity thing. When you end your set before the audience wants or expects it to, the songs you've played suddenly seem valuable. To retreat back to the absurd dating analogy: It is the difference between saying to someone, "I have nothing to do all day, so whatever you want me to do, I will do," and "I want to see you, but I only have a couple of hours." It may sound like a dirty mind game, but both love and music are terrible and painful forms of art anyway, so who cares?
2. The Audience Will Tell You How Long To Play
To hitchhike on the previous reason: If the audience wants more, they'll ask. Then you'll play more. It's that simple, you idiot. No one's going to yell at you for going to a Chinese buffet and not gorging yourself in the same way no one's going to yell at you for not taking the entire 35 minutes of your allocated set time.
In the event that you're operating under a time constraint (which you never are, if you played twenty minutes or fewer) and you can't play another song, they'll just come back to see you a second time. Basically, you can't lose.
1. Your Band Probably Sucks
Two people in your band wear backward baseball hats. Your guitarist plays pinch harmonics. Your singer sounds like Eddie Vedder. You have a synth player who no one can ever hear. You've been a band for three years but have only played five shows. You've invented a name for the genre of music that you play. You have seriously discussed covering a Rage Against the Machine song before.
I'm glad you like drinking beer with your friends and that your band just "likes to have a good time." But for the rest of us, it sucks. Get off the stage.
Follow Drew Ailes on Twitter at @CountBakula.
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