The Paradox of the Planned Encore

Photo by Mark Leishman

“PLANNED ENCORES CAN F@CK OFF” Decries Lord and Saviour, Fin H.B. In Another Rant, Of All Things.

 

Oh boy, I can’t wait for this band I paid a load of money for tickets to see, to piss off backstage for a few minutes then come back on and pretend that our adulation was just so compelling that they simply had to come back and play some more songs which they always planned on playing!

 

Said no one.

Ever.

 

Hating the forced encore isn’t something I’m alone in, regardless of how innocuous an issue it may seem. Nirvana’s Krist Novoselic claims the band used to smash their instruments so frequently to avoid having to play encores – much to their managements dismay – and Dave Grohl shares his ex-bandmates derision for planned encores. Both times I’ve seen the Foo Fighters play, Grohl stated that instead of walking off for a few minutes he’d rather play an extra song in that time, then proceeded to do so. Y’know, like a musician.

The planned encore is an interesting and historic phenomenon. In the before times, orchestral encores were reserved for repeating pieces that gained unusually strong responses from audiences, and in theatre, encores consisted only of actors coming back to bow again after the final curtain closed in the face of extraordinary ovation. Throughout the rise of popular music as we know it today, in the 1960s and 70s encores were, as previously, reserved for shows that were particularly incredible. Despite fans going absolutely crazy over Elvis and demanding encores with all the vigour and might of a sea of jacked up toddlers, he never played one. In fact, recordings of the phrase ‘Elvis has left the building’ had to be played over the PA to get fans to clear out.

The genuine encore is something very rarely observed now days. To my knowledge, I have only seen one. Indoor Pets played a mad show at Bedford Esquires and came back out to play an old single from their days of performing under the name ‘Get Inuit’: Cutie Pie, I’m Bloated. The setlist I grabbed off of the stage hasn’t got this song on it, and I’ve neither seen them play another encore or heard of them doing many, so I’m fairly certain it was genuine.

Photo by Takeshi Morisato on Unsplash

Pictured: Indoor Pets (ha ha!) – Photo by Takeshi Morisato in Hong Kong on Unsplash

So why has the planned encore become so prevalent?

Why remove the rarity?

Looking at the 10 most popular recent setlists on setlist.fm, 70% had explicitly described encores, while the remaining 30% had the band leaving while a tape played until they returned.

If you’re feeling generous, you could attribute these planned returns to ever-tightening legislation over venue curfews. If bands know that they may be forcibly cut off should they pass curfew, and feel they might face encore requests, it would make sense to build one in so that should the opportunity arise, there is definitely space for an encore that will fit within time limits. However, this fails to explain why encores are so often comprised of hit singles. After all, playing the hits always livens up a show, so you would want to make sure that gig-goers can hear what they most want to.

It can’t possibly be that they’re making, so to speak, a song of dance of it?

Another generous explanation for encores may be along the lines of them making a gig feel more special to audiences. Now that we’re familiar with encores a being the rare result of a spectacular performance leaving the crowd wanting more, perhaps to receive an encore adds a certain…  spectacle for attendees. That it just so happens to mean you hear hits such as Paradise City or Knights of Cydonia surely only adds to that feeling?

Can we really just be coping with the artifice?

One more generous response. The gap before an encore gives the band time to grab a drink and relax. Because of course you’ve never seen a musician have a water bottle onstage. Or take a short break between songs to chill out a bit. Every gig you ever go to is just SONG, SONG, SONG, isn’t it?

My cynical side says it’s a marketing exercise and an ego trip. Hearing about bands coming out for encores is more impressive than a band just playing their set, which helps to hype up gigs and sell tour tickets, while embellishing recounts of shows. I also, to be fair, can’t imagine how good it must feel to be able to come back on after playing and bring out some more hits to make the crowd absolutely lose their minds, with my gigging experience being rather, shall we say, limited.

As an attendee of gigs, the Foo’s format is absolutely my preference. Playing through what would be the offstage part of an encore means that we get more songs, and a continuation of a great atmosphere. Keeping mosh pits going also helps them feel more fun, and less painful and tiring. The last thing you need at a heavy gig is a drop in adrenaline. If nothing else, I absolutely prefer the more genuine feel of gigs without encores, where you get a feeling that the band are here to have a good time and just play, not try any trickery to try and get you to like them and buy more merch. Maybe it’s just me though.

Photo by Aaron Paul in Bengaluru, India on Unsplash

From the performer’s perspective, limited though that experience may be, I still struggle to comprehend a planned encore. I agree with Laura Marling – it would be horrendously awkward and arrogant feeling, and I would rather stay in the zone and keep up the energy than disappear for a few minutes.

 

As it stands, I’m firmly against planned encores at gigs. If a band is genuinely so moved that they have to come back and play a few songs, that’s fantastic and a genuinely exciting event, in contrast to the contrived and cheesy format of most. Take for example the current encore of the century, My Chemical Romance regrouping. Its genuine and exciting, unlike how it felt when Guns ‘n’ Roses reunited in 2016 – though that one may be due to my age – also holy shit MCR are back guys why aren’t you freaking out unless you are then good you should be. It doesn’t feel like an attention grab or cash in, it feels like everyone involved is genuinely excited to play more, and that reaction can be seen in the fanbase and media response, in much the same way that a genuine encore feels so much better than a planned one. See what I’m doing here? 

Perhaps New Order’s Peter Hook gives the best metaphor – he says an encore is “being forced to have another go after you’d had an orgasm”.

Nice.

Click below for more groundbreaking journalism from the venomous satirist, Fin H.B.

Finlay H.B. Comes Down on The Stifled Indie Scene (and reviews a couple Indie bands)

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