Encore Ennui

By dean

     Alright, listen up: if you ever form a band, if you ever break out and go solo, if you ever find yourself singing in a public place, if you ever find yourself on a stage doing whatever amazing thing that you possibly can do in front of an audience...never, ever come back and do a "why, thank you" encore unless -- and this is critical -- the audience actually asks for it. Idiot.

      "Expected" encores are evil. Or, at the very least, Satan's Idea Of A Good Idea. I mean, there's one thing to finish off a set, have a crowd gagging for more, appreciating a crowd's enthusiasm to such a degree that one will offer more musical goods and wares...and merely coming back regardless of pitiful amounts of cheers (and large amounts of people pulling the gotta-avoid-the-traffic disappearing acts) for the sole rationalization that the encore songs are "well, on the set-list." First one: respect. Second one: nobody cares, so go home.

     Really, coming back for an "expected" encore is quickly becoming like over-staying your welcome at a friend's house as you rummage through their album collection at least one more time or as you hog their computer to "try and kill just a few more counter-terrorists" while not even being aware of the fact that your overly-patient hosts are melodramatically stretching their arms in mock fatigue and yawning wide enough to swallow Schrondinger's cat absolutely whole. Er, or so I've heard.

     So don't get any self-delusions that a crowd wants more than they actually do. It's gotten to the point where it seems necessary to issue every band or musician one of those "Applause O' Meters" you used to see from the good ol' days. Then, while the normal set is over, the meter would be turned on the crowd and if it reached the appropriate noise level, a light would flash and the choice of whether or not to return to the stage can then be made. Different levels of noise could also be labeled on the machine as well. If the reading on the meter said, for example, "Nice and loud people out there, my friend," the light would go off. If the reading said, "Give it up, pony-boy," the light would remain dim. Easy-peasy-japanesey.

     Which reminds me. Way back when, there was a time when even OASIS pledged that they would never, ever do an encore either. Sure enough, though, as the band's popularity grew, they did an encore for one "special" crowd. Then did one for another. And another. So shortly thereafter, the Gallagher brothers did an encore after just about every droning, only-thing-bigger-than-these-ridiculous-stage-sets-is-our-egos gig from then on. But at least their original point was a valid one: encores are special. Don't destroy their meaning by making them "required."

     As always, though, let's make it clear that encores are indeed special when they are timely. For instance, I remember standing in the Fillmore in San Francisco, amidst a flushed and breathless crowd after a tumultuous dog man star set by SUEDE...and the crowd refused to budge. The band already played an encore or two (duly asked for by the audience, thank heavens), but the crowd still demanded even more from the band. Didn't matter what the roadies were indicating to the crowd, didn't matter about the brightening lights, didn't matter that it looked like the band was done for the night, didn't matter that it all didn't matter. The fans just screamed for more (most, of them, incidentally, screaming for the band's self-hated "Stay Together"). It was one of the most dignified moments I've seen a crowd display, and one of the most truly deserved encores I have ever experienced. And that's how it should be.

     Not this "expected" or "required" idiocy. One of the worst sights at a show is not just seeing the band's set-list taped on-stage by the monitors and recognizing that "---" line in-between songs to define "pre" and "post" encore songs, but to witness the band adhere to the "planned" post-encore songs like a man covered entirely in velcro jumping on top of a pile of Stevey McSticky's renowned collection of super-glue. And don't get me started on opening bands doing unnecessary encores either. Oh, help us...


     So we can all agree now, can't we? There is very little more sad and pathetic in this world than seeing a band "return" to do an encore because of only a flutter of half-assed applause. Absolutely right, my friend. And yes, encores should be unique, rare events. Only occurring when they are brought upon by an appreciative enough audience. Because if we turn something special into something "expected," we might as well hang up our hats, face the music, and become the NME.