“Good night, we love you!” hollers the singer into the microphone. The band struts off stage. The lights fade to black.
“Do you think they are coming back?” someone whispers next to you in the crowd. “They didn’t play my favourite song.”
I’ve got news for you. Musicians always come back. They’ve been doing it for hundreds of years. It’s called an encore (from the French word, meaning “again”). The encore began as a spontaneous additional performance by the artist in response to the demands of a rapacious audience craving “more!”
These days, most musicians plan an encore and a lot of the spontaneity has been taken away by the audience’s expectation of “more.”
Of course the band will be coming back on, it’s what they do. “Good night!” means “See you in a few minutes when I’m satisfied you’ve chanted my name, stomped your feet and clapped loud enough for me.”
Maybe it’s time for me to make my position clear: I don’t like encores. I find the false theatrics irritating.
For me, a concert has a certain arc. I enjoy the support band, which rarely plays an encore; I get excited about the buildup to see the main act, which sets the venue on fire when it arrives on the stage.
The show will have loud moments, quiet songs, new songs and the familiar songs that whoop the crowd into frenzy. The concert builds over the night until the last song, which brings the house down and everyone goes home wanting more, desperate to see the band the next time they pull into town.
Why, oh why would you finish a concert with your second-best song, then make the crowd cry out for the hit you've kept up your sleeve all night as a planned encore? Play your ace, don’t keep it in your hand!
You’ve heard the phrase “Elvis has left the building.” That’s because Elvis Presley rarely played encores. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, knew a trick or two about leaving the crowd wanting more.
Bob Marley dealt with the encore differently. Halfway through a show, the musicians would take a break, smoke, tune up and visit the washroom, then they’d come back and play an hour-long encore, which was really just the second part of the concert.
I love this idea. Everyone needs a bathroom or beer break in the middle of a show. When you put that break at the end of a concert the audience is trapped. You can’t go to the bathroom – what if the band comes back and plays your favourite song you’ve waited all night to hear and you are sitting on the can?
Not all musicians applaud the encore, either.
British folk singer Laura Marling warns the audience three songs before her finale that there will be no encore. She has declared an end to the tradition of encores and hopes other musicians will take a stand against the encore’s false theatrics with her.
Arctic Monkeys go even further, calling the encore an ''American custom'' that they find ''unnecessary'' in their performances. Ouch!
Jimmy Buffett, on the other hand, loves an encore, or three.
And while there’s no official world record for the most encores performed, the Cure (of all bands) is said to have done the most, at five encores after a show. Don’t Cure fans have homes to go to?
I’m not saying I wish bands would play shorter sets. I’m not even saying I won’t stay for the encore(s). I would like to see the encore, get absorbed into the bulk of the performance so “this is our last song” means exactly that.
The encore has become a diehard habit for bands, and maybe we’re to blame when we encourage them with chants of “we want more!”
So if you’re at a show tonight, the band just finished and you see a tech on stage tuning the guitarist’s Les Paul, the house lights are still off, trust me: the band is coming back and I’ll probably still be standing there right next to you shouting for more, but secretly wishing I didn’t have to beg.
The Supersuckers make it perfectly clear where they stand on the encore. (Strong Language)
When it comes to encores, do they leave you wanting more or is it time for artists to pull the curtain on this age old stage trick? Let us know in the comments below.