This article was originally published on Hidden Track on 1/18/2012.
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.
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.
And look, they gave me a little bio! “Carly Shields is a columnist at Oh Kee Pah Blog and BreakThru Radio, and an aspiring music manager. She also writes for Surrender to the Flow, Grateful Web, Live Music Blog and her own blog, Tela’s Travels. When not writing furiously, she goes to as much live music as possible from Boston to Philly and beyond, passionately supporting her up-and-coming favorites.” Woo!