Monday, May 14, 2007

In The Dock: Encores

(If you're wondering what this is all about, click here.)

This week's subject (particularly appropriate given that this is the last installment of In The Dock, at least for the foreseeable future): Encores

The case for the prosecution (Alison)

The first gig I ever attended was The Charlatans (I was 14!) at Edinburgh’s Playhouse. I had connected with the album and was living through some major teenage drama with the help of whiney singing and angsty lyrics, not to mention the fact that Tim Burgess was the first man I ever "loved". The gig was amazing, we all sang along word-perfect and clapped, cheered and whooped in the appropriate places. After about 50 minutes Tim thanked us and sloped off stage with the rest of the band, to the rapturous applause of the audience. As the joy died down, I checked on my mates and picked up my coat, ready to head for home. But, the lights stayed low and a spontaneous foot stomping took hold and spread throughout the frenzied crowd like an act of united adoration. There were cries for more from the large majority who were not going anywhere. And low and behold, it actually worked, Tim and his not-so-merry men returned to the stage, and to the delight of the ready-to-piss-their-pants fans. Something special had happened, I’d witnessed a one-off. We showed them love and they thanked us. Or so I thought.

I’m going to dismiss one of the possible explanations for an encore straight-off – that it gives the band a break. It just doesn’t hold any weight. If someone needs a break, let them take a break and don’t dress it up as the end of the show. The 1-2 min standard off-stage time for an encore is nowhere near long enough to serve any practical purpose. In fact, make it long enough for us too so we can get another round in without missing anything. And put it in the middle of the set; coming at the end it buggers up the show’s momentum, half the audience grabbing the opportunity to fetch their jacket from the cloakroom.

Regarded in the most positive light, encores could be seen as an impromptu thank you paid to an enthusiastic and engaged audience. But in the years since that Charlatans gig, I can count on a three-fingered hand how many bands have failed to come back on after the "end" of the show. There’s nothing surprising about an encore, the majority of bands leaving their biggest hit or their trade-mark cover for the spotlight of the encore. You’re more likely to hear the people around you discussing what the encore songs will be, rather than whether the band might come back on. Encores aren’t extra songs for free, they even appear on set lists and an internet search mid-tour will tell you what to expect. They don’t even turn the lights on! Frankly, the idea that the encore is a surprise is patronising.

Importantly, those gigs I’ve seen without an encore are by no means the worst gigs I’ve been to. I’ve seen crap bands go down like a lead balloon and yet still they reappear on-cue to perform another set of unappreciated songs. The predictability of encores might go some way to explain the phenomenon of the apathetic audience, there’s nothing worse than feeling like you are the only person in the room trying to convey that the set you’ve just witnessed was ace. If the encore is just a tool for manipulating your audience into begging for more and massaging the ego, then it serves bands right that the listeners (who’ve already paid for the privilege) are sticking the fingers up.

So should we accept that encores are just a tradition now, the trademark of a live show? If so, I reckon they’re tired and clichéd and need to go. If bands want to give the fans a treat, let it at least be something original. The ridiculous practise of the multiple encore is not the answer, the fact that you need to do it more than once to prove you really mean it just demonstrates that the encore itself is anything but a response to the audience’s actions.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been to gigs where the band’s reappearance on stage has felt like the highlight of my life. Don’t see your task as jury to vote in defence of the encores you’ve seen. Rather, vote for the prosecution because you think it’s too naff to go on, it’s a practise that can never regain credibility. I hope the next band to leave me foot-stomping, screaming and begging for more will do me a favour and deny me; ultimately they’d be leaving me happier.

The case for the defence (Damo)

"Hey! The Waterboys are leaving the stage! And they haven’t played 'The Whole Of The Moon'! I paid £20 for this! Oh hang on, here they come, do you think they just forgot and then realised?"

I knew a guy when I was at university. He related a story to a number of us about going to see The Sisters of Mercy. He said that they left the stage and everyone was applauding for an encore, while he looked at them and thought, "You idiots, you know they’re going to come back and do 'Vision Thing'"… He didn’t applaud, he just stood there tutting. He related this story to us with some pride.

He was also one of the most humourless people it was ever my misfortune to meet.

What’s to love about encores? Let’s see:

1. Some bands use it as a chance to do something a bit different – to play something in a more "stripped-down" format, to chuck in a couple of covers, to bring on members of the support act etc.

2. A good band knows to pace a set by playing a relatively disciplined set, and then to visibly relax in the encore. That sounds very (very) dull on paper – but so does any art when you dissect it. "Disciplined", incidentally, shouldn’t mean "close your eyes and you might as well be listening to the record at home" but rather "this band have made an effort to rehearse so that they can put on a decent spectacle for their paying fans". Then if there’s a few bum notes in the encore that’s not the end of the world… If they’ve done their job then the fans should be mentally (and possibly physically) a little worn out by then, and ready for a little light relief.

3. Sometimes it’s an excuse for the band to play a request if people shout it loud enough. Which is not something you want to see every band doing, but it does suit certain ones very well.

Am I forgetting anything? Oh yes.

4. Some bands use encores as an excuse to leave the big hit(s) until last and then come out to tumultuous applause and play it / them.

Let’s not kid ourselves. Points 1-3 may sometimes be valid but for the bulk of this argument they’re a distraction. When I go out to a gig, I want to be entertained. Life’s too short to be cool for the sake of being cool. There’s really not a scientific explanation for this at all and as I touched upon previously, you can take the magic out of anything by over-analysing it. I just really enjoy going to a gig by a band I like, watching them (hopefully) play a decent set then troop off, and applauding like a loon for them to return and play some more. And from the many gigs I’ve gone to, I feel reasonably safe in the assumption that I am far from alone.

It’s a tradition that crosses all genres from pop to rock to dance and so forth, and from leftfield to mainstream. And yes, not all traditions are a good thing. But look at the faces around you next time you’re amidst people applauding for an encore, and try telling me that this particular one isn’t.

That’s all from me; hopefully I’ll see you soon. Thank you and goodnight.


Oh, you want more? Thanks, you’re too kind… I’d just like to conclude by saying that human beings are a mass of contradictions. One example: most people find comfort in routine, yet also like surprises. I think that is precisely the reason the vast majority of people seem to enjoy encores: you know you’re probably going to get one, but you don’t necessarily know what it will contain (Big Hit notwithstanding). Unless, that is, you’re inclined to stand at the front and spend more of the show staring at the setlist than the band. In which case, I used to know a guy at university that would probably like to meet you.

* * * * *

Thanks to Alison and Damo for their contributions. Now it's over to you. Guilty or innocent - YOU decide. The comments box is open and awaiting your comments - you've got until Sunday to make up your mind...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Innocent. As it is, the encore provides the chance for the audience (and presumeably the band) to get their collective breath back and really enjoy the end of the gig.

Another thing, is that admittedly, the routine is usually unsurprising, but at the really memorable gigs, it gives certain songs a chance to really shine.

Blur's 'Sing' and 'This Is A Low' at Reading a few years back (2001/2002?) is a classic example. Had the band rounded off a setlist of the usual favourites with these, but without the break, they almost certainly wouldn't have had quite the same impact.

Btw, does anyone know when the encore in rock/pop became routine?

6:15 pm  
Blogger Ian said...

Innocent. Predictable as hell, but also fun and somehow comforting. I don't even mind multiple encores, which have only happened as shows I've been to which were frankly amazing. And even when you know what and why they're going to do what they do for an encore (as in Hot Chip leaving "Over and Over" to the very end), it works spectacularly. I never want these to go away.

6:47 pm  
Blogger Unknown said...

To me, guilty.

I totally bought Alison's argument. I have seen some great encores, but they are thoroughly artificial and I do sometimes feel like I am being deceived in some way. Let's just be honest, and throw the songs into the set.

One good thing about encores, though. It can signal the immanent end of gig you are underwhlemed with.

And another. I have seen Air twice now (my wife really likes them). Both times, the concert itself was lifeless and uninspiring, but the encore was quite marvellous. Same song, mind. Next time I see them, I am just going for the encore.

Second thoughts.... no... still guilty.

7:18 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'vealready voted btw, but just thought of another reason why encore are good.

"Don’t see your task as jury to vote in defence of the encores you’ve seen."

Hmmmm...difficult that, once you've seen the Furries' "The Man Don't Give A Fuck" in all it's Moog and animal-costumed glory.

11:04 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Cliched and conventional, yes - but I'm really rather fond of encores. That there will be one is pretty much taken for granted, but it's the way in which it's used that makes one gig or band special and another not. Plus what's wrong with having the band build to (at least) two peaks, rather than just one?

Not guilty.

9:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's about shape, the main set has a complete thing of its own going on, and encores allow for a new phrase. Just as much as I like the theatricality of a show, I enjoy the bands teasing us!

Not guilty.

4:38 am  
Blogger swisslet said...

That was another thing to love about the Manic Street Preachers: no encores.

Encores can be fantastic, but they are too often orchestrated, pre-meditated and far too predictable. Yeah, I do want to hear the hits, but sometimes I really like it when they play it early on in the set so that we can all relax and just enjoy the show. Saving it up for the end is rubbish - far better when they play something a bit interesting, a really gutsy and rocking version of a lesser hit, perhaps or maybe a cover to send you home with a smile on your face. Why does it have to always be your biggest hit?

.... and if a band comes out and plays a song that you've already heard them playing that evening (I'm looking at you Primal Scream - "Rocks" - and you U2 - "Vertigo") then that's just pathetic and a sure sign of utter creative bankruptcy, worthy of eternal scorn.



(and thanks everyone - "in the dock" has been a whole lot of fun. James won't thank me for saying so, but the conviction of Bob Dylan more than made up for my R'n'B disappointment)

7:25 am  
Blogger swisslet said...

(although I should add that some bands are masters at pacing their set and constantly build and build and build before the big, collective climax at the end of the last encore. Those are bands worth seeing)

7:26 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not Guilty.

Apologies for the simple answer, I can't be bothered to argue my decision if there won't be any more In The Dock. *sulk*

Seeya later you bunch of randoms.

8:05 am  
Blogger Paul said...

On balance, I think not guilty.

I tend to feel cheated without an encore - even if the main set has been outstanding. It may be cliched, but it is still all part of the experience, and when done well tends to leave a memory that outlasts the rest of the gig.

3:06 pm  
Blogger Mark said...

encores yay! Bands coming on late, taking the piss, and people being late and having to rush to get home?? Nein danke.

9:38 pm  
Blogger Kwok said...

I think this is like trying to prosecute Oasis for Mike Flowers Pops.

Encores can be routine and cliched, but they can also be something special. On the whole though, I like it when they play more music, so encores are ok by me.

Not guilty.

BTW: why is this feature being binned? Could you do it once every 2 weeks or monthly or something...

3:05 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

Nick The Snick / Wan: Glad the feature's gone down well, but it's drawing to a close for several reasons - interest has waned a little bit (though the quality of the prosecution and defence cases certainly hasn't), we've come to the end of the topics I had lined up, and I could really do with a break! The possibility of resurrection remains, though...

9:48 pm  
Blogger Ben said...

This is Phill

I have to say guilty guilty guilty

I mean what is the point?

Oh look the band is going off and they haven't played two of their
biggest hits - oh look, there's still 25 minutes until the curfew of the

Encores should be reserved for a very special performance or a very
special crowd reaction - not every gig.

I went to see Ray Davies last night and he did three bloody encores -
all that time going on and off, he could have fitted in another song.

Plus I hate clapping.

New Order had the right idea. They did few encores and by all accounts,
the ones they did, they spent so long discussing it backstage before
coming back on that they usually ended up playing to bar staff and
cleaning ladies - that's how it should be done.


10:03 pm  

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