by Joel Caris
I've been to a lot of concerts over the last six months or so. It's been fantastic. I've seen some amazing shows and have consistently enjoyed myself. I saw my most recent show, Josh Ritter, on Saturday. It was a hell of a performance and I strongly recommend his music and, in particular, his concerts.
I thought about something during that concert, though, and it's something that's been (sparingly) on my mind for the last few months. Frankly, it's not that original or fascinating. Basically, I just want to know what's up with the encores. I get that there's a tradition to this. The artist or band finishes up the set, walks off stage, everyone stands up and applauds and whistles and hollers for a few minutes, and then the artist is back for a couple more songs. It's a fine tradition, really, but at every concert I've attended it's been . . . mandatory. It's been expected. It's just what happens, and it has nothing to do with what it's supposed to be about.
Theoretically, the encore isn't a given. It's an indication that the artist appreciates the audience's enthusiasm, and that enthusiasm is then rewarded with a couple additional songs. But the reality here is that the encore is planned. It's happening no matter what, and everyone knows this. It's total bullshit at this point.
Hell, it's to the point that Josh Ritter acknowledged the coming encore halfway through the concert. Of course he's going to finish the set, walk off stage, and then come back on a couple minutes later to do a few encore songs. But at that point, it's not an encore—it's just the songs after a short break. It's obligatory. He didn't finish the set. He's making the audience clap before he finishes the set.
I don't blame him and I don't really blame any artist who does this. At this point, I think everyone who goes to a concert expects the encore. It's kind of ridiculous, though. Every person in the audience knows what's happening. Nobody makes any move for the exit after the artist goes off stage because everyone knows the concert isn't over—it's just in a short but required lull. We all stand there and clap and think to ourselves, "Come on, come on, get back on stage and finish the set."
Here's what's bullshit about all this. If the artist just did his full set, including the two or three encore songs, without ever leaving the stage, most of the people in the audience would be pissed. They would feel cheated because he didn't come out and do an encore, despite all the clapping and yelling and cheering. It wouldn't be that the artist just did the set and called it a night, choosing not to go through the charade of the encore. No, because this encore is so set in stone at this point, the main set has to end a few songs early just so nobody feels cheated out of their money.
It's not that I find any of this particularly annoying or troublesome, I just think it's interesting. And I think it's fairly silly. It's all a charade, planned and silently agreed upon, and we all go through the motions to bring it to reality. Further, we're all so conditioned to expect it that if some aspect of the process changed—if the artist didn't do the obligatory stage exit and re-entrance—many people would probably be upset about it. Frankly, that's a bit ridiculous.
It's also a bit sad, too. I don't know if this was ever really the case, but I imagine that there was a time when the encore was a nice surprise, or it was a reward for the hardcore fans. You stayed and clapped and whistled and screamed and forced the band back out onto the stage to fully satisfy you. And maybe it actually took effort and wasn't a foregone conclusion. Maybe the less hardcore fans left, because they weren't willing to wait around to see if the band would come back on stage. Maybe when the band did suddenly reappear, there was a thrilling element to it, a surge of happiness, and uplift to the spirit. Rather than it being an obligation being fulfilled, expected and unsurprising and utterly incapable of inspiring strong emotion because it's the only possible outcome—maybe at some point in the past it was actually cool and exciting when the band reappeared simply because there wasn't a guarantee it would happen. Maybe there was once a point when the crowd had to earn it.
I think it would be much more satisfying that way.
But that's not how it is. It's an expectation, a definite, an unquestioned outcome. While that's not horrible, it's not too inspiring, either.
So what do you think? Do you like the encore or do you find it to be nothing more than empty tradition? Would you feel cheated if an artist skipped the encore, but instead just folded the extra songs into the full set? Or would you appreciate the rejection of an unnecessary but expected action? Should encores be earned or are they simply a part of what you're paying for?