Opinion: The Death of the Encore?

Somewhere in the back of my mind are memories of clapping fanatically, screaming toward an empty stage, waiting many long minutes for Phish’s triumphant return to the spotlight. After many a vigorous two-set show, not only by Phish but other bands as well, the audience anxiously awaits the coming encore. The lights stay dimmed while people cheer and clap until their hands turn red and their voices go horse, and then they do it some more, merely to the point of coaxing the music back on stage.

Best Encore Ever?

Nowadays, the second set ends and we pay hardly any mind, worrying only about the encore that is sure to come. We cheer for a few moments, then start to gather our things, prepare for the dash out or the wait in line. The noise level drops noticeably when really, it should be louder than it has been all show. That’s what got Phish back out for years, and it worked flawlessly throughout music history as an honor for musicians. Recently, however, I think that the encore has died.

For most of music’s sordid past, an encore was not to be expected after the official end of a performance. Bob Marley and the Wailers very rarely did encores. Elvis never did, as a policy of his managers, whereas Jimmy Buffet plays a mini acoustic set at the end of each show in lieu of an encore. In the classical music world, encores were strictly reserved for audiences that demanded it; when the performer did so well that the crowd wouldn’t leave the theater without one more tune, and the artist came back out, humbled, to satisfy their fans with an encore. A French word that means “again” or “some more,” the concept of the encore originated spontaneously and organically from a particularly roused up audience. Performers did and still do use it to show off their skills or mellow the crowd out to get ready to leave, and now it’s pretty much a staple at music performances.

While Phish shows without an encore have been rare throughout history, they weren’t always a guarantee, and from old audience recordings that didn’t cut out the between time, you can hear just how long they used to make us wait. Maybe it’s purely because the band members have less they want to do between those moments, or maybe they’re just anxious, but in the last two years I would say standard wait time between the end of second set and start of the encore has dropped dramatically. And like I said, this does not apply just to Phish. Everyone is waiting in the wings for their encores.

This is bad news for a few reasons: it means they aren’t putting too much thought into the encore or spending much time discussing song selection; it means they’re not resting their limbs to give a good final push and solid last showing; and, most likely, it means they’re not trying to stick around for much longer. Sure, there are venue rules and probably contractual obligations regarding encores, but since when did they start caring so much? This is not to say that Phish, or anyone else, hasn’t thrown down some fantastic encores (i.e. UIC 8/17/11), but on the whole, encores are quick, simple, average at best, and for Phish, never reaching that signature level they used to be known for.

Most bands expect and are expected to do an encore after every show. In this way, the artists walk off stage with anticipation for the last showing of the night and the audience is left with nothing to wonder about, merely to wait. This may sound very much like a complaint, but believe me, I enjoy those final moments at a show when you’re holding onto the last notes and grasping for a last glance. I would, however, like to know what happened to begging for it? Why don’t we plead like we used to? It’s never been about instant gratification before, so why now?

Maybe it’s not so much that the encore has died, but it’s certainly shriveled up and less lively than it used to be. Not only are they instantaneous, but they not gratifying and not meant to be. Let’s hope our favorite bands are using this a tactic to keep us wanting more, but if they’re not, I’d love to see some encores that come completely out of left-field, and higher energy than the entire show, and took the audience 10 minutes of clapping and screaming to earn.

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13 thoughts on “Opinion: The Death of the Encore?

  1. andrew Reply

    Couldn’t agree more. I think one of the better live shows these days is Explosions In The Sky and they told me years ago that they never bothered with encores because they felt like it’s just anticlimactic these days.

  2. Lesley Silky Vernon Reply

    I just noticed this at the Disco Biscuits show I attended after Phish on the 28th. No one was clapping, everyone was sitting down. There was ONE guy beside me clapping loud and looking around as if silently asking everyone else why they weren’t doing the same. It would be a thrill to have those 10 minutes of anticipation of wondering what they are cooking up to completely blow our heads off. I couldnt agree more.

  3. FranklyCrafty Reply

    I disagree. I think it is very true in the culture of the “jam” scene, but that to me appears to be the only scene in which it is apparent. I have been to many other shows where the cheer for an encore has deafened me more than the show itself. A good example is almost every Wilco show I have been to. I also think its something genre specific. Operas and orchestras still retain the encore’s meaning. Everyone stands from their chairs and erupts in cheer. Another example is metal bands. Very rarely have I seen an encore at metal shows.

    I share your sentiment when it comes to bands like Phish, but I think it is just the way that culture has become. This very same culture that has seemed to be driven more by the drugs than the music itself in recent years.

  4. kellerb Reply

    Kimock has been pretty steady in not doing encores unless he feels the performance and crowd response earns it.

    Nirvana used to say they smashed their instruments so that they wouldn’t have to do an encore (Although, they are certainly guilty of exaggerating/lying about such things)

  5. RJ Reply

    Word Scotty. Couldn’t agree more. Missed the VA Beach Terrapin by one show. Can’t complain about a Sabotage the previous night though.

  6. sk Reply

    Interesting topic for sure but I tend to agree with FCrafty that it depends on the band. Wilco indeed is one that sends its audience into a frenzy before an encore and they respond accordingly with deeper cuts and more songs if the gig warrants it. The last Black Crowes tour also had wild crowd response and the band would deliver on choice nights. The final shows in London and Amsterdam had especially raucous yet respectful crowds clamoring for more at the end of the second sets though that may be an EU thing too. I know we had to brace ourselves during the crowd swell when Jimmy Page came on for the encore in London. Friends scored the set list and the printed list had a totally different encore listed than what was played w Page. The encore is like that last chip in the casino…sometimes it pays big but you almost always go home feeling the thrill.

  7. fwwank Reply

    total PhishCentric generalization.

    the encore is alive and well.

  8. eric Reply

    see 6/18/10 Hartford Phish (double tweezer reprise) for example of encore alive and well

  9. Bret Berman Reply

    ENCORES AREN’T FREE! Perhaps more artists need to simply refrain from performing encores unless the crowd demands it.

    On a side note, it sure would be a hell of a lot easier for the crowd to scream for an encore if ore venues let audiences keep the caps to their $5 water bottles!!

  10. aburtch Reply

    I agree the audience should have to earn an encore. But I’m not sure I agree with the statement that Phish used to be known for “signature level” encores. Seeing Phish in the early 90’s we used to joke that they were the worst encore band ever. They were usually one-and-done. Fantastic two set shows would routinely end with a three minute “Fire.”

    That said I’m going to put in my vote for 3/1/03 Greensboro, NC as one of the best Phish encores ever. The First Tube > YEM (with Proud Mary vocal jam) lasted over 34 minutes and was a fantastic close to the tour.

  11. Phishbeat Reply

    My favorite Phish encore that I experienced was at MSG on 12/30/97… Carini -> Black-Eyed Katy -> Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley (Reprise) > Frankenstein

  12. Exploratory Reply

    I agree completely. I have been to many concerts, but only one recently has kept the excitement for encores: The Foo Fighters. They spent about 10 minutes on a screen from backstage wagering through applause how many encore songs they would play. After the crowd goes nuts, they would reluctantly add one song to the number displayed on their fingers. Dave Grohl kept taking songs away as if he didn’t want to play anymore. After a long time, we ended up with 7 encore songs. That is the most of any concert I have been to. The concert was a little over 3 hours and phenomenal.

  13. Catherine Reply

    I completely agree. Was just at a show this week and the artists walked off the stage for mere moments before walking right back on and doing another two songs. It’s no longer an encore – it’s written into the set and I find it boring. I miss the encores that are earned.

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