Encores are (mostly) pointless

Encores are (mostly) pointless
By Jarrett Bellini | @JarrettBellini | May 3, 2016

"Elvis has left the building."

On December 15, 1956, in Shreveport, Louisiana, Horace Lee Logan first uttered those famous words. He was the show promotor that night, and the phrase would later be used throughout Elvis's career as a polite way of telling the audience to shut up and go home.

The King's rabid fans were waiting and cheering, hoping for more. But Elvis never played encores.

Because he was a goddamn sensible human being ... with a crippling barbiturates habit.

Despite the fact that the infamous "Dr. Nick" had him perpetually hopped up on goof balls, Elvis at least maintained a proper showman's wherewithal to exit the stage each night, proudly walk away, and not come back. Out the door. Out of sight. 

To be fair, he was probably just making a hasty bee line for the nearest piping hot thermos of gravy. But still. Elvis always left them wanting more.

It was true then. And it remains true today. Encores are (mostly) pointless.

Now, bear in mind that my favorite band is the Grateful Dead. Which is significant only in that they were completely guilty of (if not partly responsible for) this absurd rock n' roll charade.

A normal Grateful Dead show more or less played out like this:

Set One.

Short break so Jerry Garcia could have a thirty-minute ice cream colon blow.

Set Two.

Walk off stage and count to sixty while trying to keep Bob Weir from having sex with things.


Usually the encore was one song. And, often, it was rather uninspiring, at least compared to whatever magic they just played to close out the second set.

(See, for example, March 21, 1994.)

Now, understand that the French word "encore" simply means "again."

And, once upon a time, it was used quite literally. 

In live classical or operatic music a wowed audience would request that the orchestra or soloist perform the exact same song or segment ... again

It was like hitting the rewind button for the best part of your favorite song. 

However, somewhere along the way, encores became a request for additional music at the end. Something different

This type of encore - though not necessarily true to the meaning of the word, but for which we are more accustomed - evolved into a moment of true spontaneity. After a particularly outstanding performance, the audience would enthusiastically demand further satisfaction. And, if those demands reached a fever pitch, the musicians might figure out something to play, and return to stage.

The additional music wasn't necessarily great. It was more of an appeasement. Maybe something new or still in the works.

"Here's one that Andy wrote. This morning. It's .... OK."

As encores became a rock n' roll staple, they also became a sad, self-aggrandizing obligation. They became planned. Rehearsed. And given a certain level of contrived importance. 

Literally pre-written into each evening's setlist. Which is a bit presumptuous, don't you think?

"They'll love us! They'll really love us!"

So, now we go through the whole dog and pony show of the band leaving the stage, the crowd going wild, and some douchebag yelling, "Freebird!"

Then the band returns - OMG! - they play one or two more songs, and everyone talks about how "epic" the encore was. 

But it wasn't epic. It was Dave Matthews playing "All Along the Watchtower." Because of course he did.

(According to my personal live music database - which is just as disturbingly OCD as it sounds - I've seen Dave Matthews four times. He played "Watchtower" as an encore for three of those shows.)

Don't get me wrong. "Watchtower" is a great tune, and his band always crushes it. But, on any given night, you could safely bet one of your gonads that he'll play that song to close out the show.

It can't be like that. It doesn't make sense.

Never mind what song the band plays. It's that the encore is happening at all, as opposed to just playing straight through until curfew, taking a bow, and then going back stage to SNORT ALL THE BLOW!

An encore should be rare. It should be special. Fans should risk getting a police beat-down in the process of demanding one.

"How was the show?"

"Absolutely incredible! At the end we all started a mass human sacrifice until he came back and played one more song."

"Was it 'Watchtower?'"

"It was 'Watchtower.'"

Extraordinary concerts deserve extraordinary applause. And sometimes - sometimes - that validates a curtain call. 

I suppose rare exceptions can also be made for setting up the stage to accommodate a special surprise guest or, perhaps, if the band just wants to end the night with a complete change of pace, thus necessitating a dramatic pause.

Otherwise, it's just a glorified pee break. A chance for the band to wipe away the sweat for one more song.

Elvis didn't wipe away the sweat. He savored it.

Because it was mostly gravy.

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