The very idea of the encore is a bit strange if you stop and think about it.
Why would an artist or band spend five minutes offstage when they know they’re just going to step back out to play another couple of songs? Wouldn’t you want that time to play another song?
And as fans, why would you want to wait five minutes for something you know is coming? Wouldn’t you want the band to use that time to play another song?
The encore has become fully integrated into the overall concert experience over the last several decades. The encore’s intentions are good: reward an appreciate audience with more music than was initially anticipated. No one would say no to another few songs at the end of a concert, especially if the band is cooking.
But for both artists and fans, the gesture has become entirely disingenuous. When both parties expect it, it removes any degree of spontaneity the encore might have held. It turns what had once been a special moment in the band/fan dynamic into a sham, a tired, mechanical obligation. What should be a celebration of the relationship between an artist and their audience turns into a drawn-out cliché, to be repeated invariably in city after city. It’s impersonal, it’s facetious, and it’s an insult to fans as well as a burden for artists.
Some artists have begun to forego encores entirely, using the offstage time between the main set and the encore to introduce the band (especially if they’re a solo artist), tell a story, or simply play more music. The logic behind this is simple: if you’re playing the same set night after night, including the encore, why make fans sit and wait for it? And wouldn’t you, the artist, want to just finish the show and be on your way? It sounds jaded, but it’s more honest than pretending you’ve ended your show just to come back out and play the same two to three song encore set you played in the last 17 cities.
I saw Ryan Adams in Indy last week, and he completely did away with the encore. He even mused about it onstage, referencing that awkward period when you wonder “is he gonna come back on?”, only to see stagehands run onto a darkened stage to twiddle some knobs on amps or run guitars back out to their stands. He took the time to introduce his new backing band, who played an immensely powerful show and deserved their moment of recognition. And in any case, it’s not like everyone in attendance didn’t know he was going to play “Come Pick Me Up” for the encore. Adams, and a growing number of other artists, recognizes the hackneyed nature of the encore.
It’s important to note, however, that there are still bands that treat the encore with the kind of reverence it deserves. Some bands, like Pearl Jam and Phish among others, tailor their encores to reflect their own performance, audience reception, or other extraneous circumstances (location, anniversary of an event, etc.). Bruce Springsteen oftentimes comes back for multiple encores, reveling in the all-encompassing glory of rock and roll. By and large, though, bands will stick to the same script for the majority of a tour. If you’re a fan in New York City or some other major metropolis, you might get some deep cuts or an extra encore. If you live in Omaha, you might wonder why tonight’s setlist, down to the encore and stage banter, was exactly the same as the show in Cleveland three weeks ago.
So just cut them. Retire the encore. Play your set, thank your audience profusely, and let them know that yes, this really is our last song of the night, and thank you all so much for coming out and supporting us. The only time an encore is truly appropriate is if a band or artist really feels they’ve played an exceptional show, or they feel the audience has been particularly engaged. Really, it should be up to the artist (and, to a lesser extent, the audience) to decide whether or not to stage an encore.
It’s time to put an end to the ruse of the obligatory encore. It’s time to make it special again.