The Shins performed their Splendour sideshow to a sold Festival Hall last month, during which they delivered a valiant mix of old and new tunes, with a set filled with both popular and obscure numbers, doing everything in their power to inspire a solid crowd reception.
However, the reception was shaky at best, and as the band continued to crank out a perfectly cohesive catalogue of tunes, one couldn’t help thinking; ‘what’s it going to take to inspire this crowd?’
Rounding off their set, the band exited the stage, and suddenly – from somewhere deep within – the crowd suddenly exploded into a frenzy of cheering and foot-stomping; as if to imply the sentiment: ‘We want more! Nay, we demand it!’
Why the sudden change of heart one might ask? Well most bands are known to do encores, regardless of what goes on throughout the course of the show; a planned return to the stage to ‘sate the crowd’ is now a staple across all facets of live music, to the point at which they are expected.
A few years back, yours truly was once again packed into the rectangular boxing arena that is Festival Hall, this time to see British indie-rock superstars, the Arctic Monkeys.
Alex Turner and his lads played a solid set, peppered with some incomprehensible banter slathered in their trademark Sheffield intonation. The crowd was relatively receptive, by no means rapturous, but by the end of the band’s set – Mr Turner politely thanked his audience, bidding everyone a very good night.
Just like clockwork, as soon as the band left the stage, the pleas started coming for more. A demand from an arguably undeserving crowd, which was not reciprocated by the band as the lights went up and the collected fans began to shuffle out to the tune of ‘those arrogant wankers won’t even play us an encore!’
Now it has taken a few examples to get here, but the question that arises from all of this is; why has it suddenly become mandatory for a band to perform an encore? To the point at which, if a band foregoes their obligation to ‘give us what we want’ the gig is branded with negative connotations and the artist ‘too good for us’.
The importance of encores certainly still holds a place in live music, as there is nothing more exciting than actually thinking a band has concluded their set, only to return as a treat to a deserving crowd and the overly responsive baying of those in attendance. Unfortunately, encores have become so constantly expected, there is really no magic too them at all, to the point at which they have become almost trivial.
Nowadays, when you consider how much time to allow for a gig, an encore inevitably factors into that equation, and questions posed by those not present at the show have slowly evolved into ‘what did they play for encore?’ rather than ‘did they play one?’
To make even more of a mockery of the ritual, it has reached an extreme where artists will perform their standard set (encore omitted) only to play a second special encore to show their appreciation to a particularly good crowd. While the standard return to the stage is no longer exciting a second return is something else. An encore encore? that’s the ticket! A double encore, how ridiculous!
The danger that comes from this is the idea that without the contrived mandatory encore, and the precedence that has now been set, means that fans are beginning to feel cheated if a performer doesn’t oblige their fans, regardless of the quality of the performance and their reception. Like a victory lap that’s performed regardless of the victory.
Lana Del Rey notoriously skipped out on encores for her Splendour sideshows, a characteristic that has become a staple in her sets. Unfortunately, the focus on the lack of encore therefore becomes an overriding factor when trawling the reviews and articles on her live shows, spattered with the slogans ‘encore-free’, as if this is the be all and end all of a successful live show.
The reasoning behind Del Rey’s lack of encores has not been touched on, but one can only hope that she is reserving her stage returns for a deserving crowd that she feels a desire to gift a few more tracks to, or perhaps it’s even an attempt to take a stand against the mandatory encore; which the Arctic Monkeys have since revealed as their motivation for regularly sparing an audience any further tracks, deriding it as an “American custom”.
A loathing towards the obligatory encore is nothing new however, Peter Hook of New Order/Joy Division infamy, once compared the ritualistic encore to having sex, only to be forced into trying to have another go immediately after orgasm. New Order later became notorious for sporadic and unexpected encores, occasionally even featuring Joy Division songs in the true spirit of excitement and spontaneity originally associated with the act of returning to the stage.
Other bands who actively oppose the obligated encore include Pearl Jam, Laura Marling and even Nirvana; who back in the day fell into the basket of encore-escapists. Going so far as to trash their instruments and set to avoid any misguided aspirations from their fans to call the band back to the stage.
More bands and performers are beginning to become conscious of the triviality of the encore and how to respond to it. Sydney locals Art vs Science approached the issue in an interview with The Age, speaking about their decision only to perform a return set once in every three or four shows.
“The other two guys don’t like it. Their main point is it’s a bit lame when bands plan an encore and don’t play their most popular song [in their main set] and then go, OK goodnight,” lead singer Dan Mac told The Age reporters.
“For bands in our generation, it has become part of the set list,” he added. “It’s like writing all your audience banter [before] talking to the crowd,” Mac affirmed.
So here lies the big question, if the encore has become so trivial, is it something audiences want to keep happening? Or is it about time there was a throwback to a bygone era, where the encore was a mythical beast that only revealed itself at the most perfect moment. Surely the trade-off would be resoundingly beneficial in the long run, in an overdue return to its former glory.
Just imagine a world where the encore performance is not written on the setlist, a world where bands play their big hits amongst the rest of their material, saving a hidden gem for an encore to only the most deserving of dedicated fans.
Until that day however, it seems that crowds and artists will continue to be subjected to this arbitrary rule; and to those people who might stand in defense of the encore inclusion, maybe try and see what it’s like to go without. Have faith, because sometimes things are just that little bit sweeter when you least expect them.