Friday, May 20, 2011

Encore Etiquette

Listen to this album
and tell me it's not in your
top 5 of all time.
Last night we saw Weezer play at the BofA Pavillion, and they were terrific. They played no fewer than 8 songs off the Blue Album -- and only one off Pinkerton, which I like better -- but that’s why we caught their front-to-back Pinkerton show in December. It actually worked out pretty well!

Anyway, they closed the main set with the last song on the Blue Album, “Only in Dreams.” It’s a moody song, and, despite its throttling crescendo, not something you’d ordinarily end the night with. Still, after the band ducks offstage into the dark, you gotta clap for the encore, right? Show your appreciation?

Well, some people argue not. My friend, whom we’ll call ‘Jeff,’ didn’t bother to hoot and holler, saying, “They’re going to come back out anyway, what’s the difference?” It’s a prevalent belief. Plenty of people just stood there gaping up at the stage, checking their phones or half-heartedly clapping once a minute as they wait for the predetermined encore.

As someone who’s spent plenty of time on both sides of the stage, as a musician and a fan, it bothers the hell out of me.

Yes, a national touring act will have its encore(s) planned out in advance. Unless the whole crowd starts heading to the exits en masse, the band will come back out 99% of the time, and play the same encore set they played in Baltimore four nights ago.

But do you want them to come back out because they HAVE to, or because they WANT to?

Bands thrive on that energy. Rivers even riffed on it during “The Sweater Song,” waxing poetic on the overwhelming validation they got from the Blue Album and Pinkerton shows. A raucous round of collective applause could mean the difference between hearing an autopilot version of the encore set everyone else gets to hear, or a once-in-a-lifetime rendition of a rarely played classic. It might earn you an extra song or two, or some unforgettable stage banter. It could even determine whether they choose to play in your city on their next tour, or skip it altogether in favor of a place with more enthusiastic fans, like Providence.

And this isn’t just about encores. I can’t believe the amount of shows I go to where the majority of people just stand there like lobotomy patients in between songs, refusing to clap. They might nod a little, like you would after a professor says something mildly enlightening. It’s a disgrace.

If you put in a hard day’s work – killed yourself to meet a deadline, let’s say – it would feel better if your boss said, “Hey, nice job!” afterward, wouldn’t it? He doesn’t have to. He knows you’re still going to show up the next morning. But you’ll be showing up because you have to, not because you feel good about it.

Do you want your favorite musicians, whose music has been an integral part of your life, whom you’ve paid a ton of money to see live, dragging themselves back out on stage simply because they feel obligated?

If you’re not there to share in the energy of the event, to give and to receive, you may as well just listen to the album at home and save yourself some money.

Footnote: Mind you, I play a bunch of cover gigs, and that’s an entirely different situation. If you’re in a bar and there’s some schmo like me playing “Me & Julio” or whatever, you don’t need to clap or whistle if you don’t want to. You didn’t buy tickets to the show, it’s not his own music – he’s just there to create a fun atmosphere. Although he will feel better if you clap a bit. And yes, you can call me Mr. Music Manners.

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