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encore?

soft moon :: terrific performance, but should an
encore really have props?
lately, i've gotten back into the habit of attending shows. actually, i never lost the habit, but there was an extended period when the shows that were happening in montreal just didn't excite me that much. but in the last few weeks, there's been joel dittrich at elektra, the ryoichi kurokawa/ emptyset show at mutek, soft moon performing with the excellent local post-post-punk troupe dekoder and, most exciting of all, the canadian debut of william bennett's afro-noise project, cut hands. that's a great diversity of performances in a variety of different spaces and the contrasts got me thinking of the things i appreciate about live music and one thing in particular that i don't like.

it's quite easy to see the appeal of a live show- at least to me- the energy of a crowd can augment the thrill of seeing a favourite artist, plus there's that combination of the familiar and the unknown- you'll be hearing things that you've heard before, but often done in different ways, or interspersed with unexpected reactions/ interactions. at its best, it can be euphoric and i've been lucky enough to see a lot of shows that fall into that category. even when you know the music and can sing along [if that's your thing], there's always that excitement that comes from seeing it done with your own eyes [we are after all, visual creatures] and from feeding off the collective energy in the room.

the thing that i don't like- something that actually annoys me more and more each time i see it done- is the "expected encore". there was a time when an encore was a treat- you hollered and stamped and ballyhooed long enough that the band felt compelled to come back and do something to sate your longing. often, that would be a song they never did as part of their normal set, or a cover of someone else's track. in fact, encores used to be panic-inducing, because it the band would have played all the songs they came prepared to perform as part of their regular live set. now, however, it's just assumed that there will be encores and, what's worse, it's often the biggest numbers that get saved for the part that's supposed to be unplanned. surely that's cheating.

i've seen enough shows to know that it's perfectly possible to get a fully satisfying set without forcing the audience to beg for part of it [some of the shows that i mentioned above were great without relying on this]. and as audiences, we should expect that an artist is going to give a fully satisfying performance [or at least try their damnedest] without having to interrupt themselves for the sake of cheap theatrics.

there are times when encores are legitimately demanded, because the set has been so wonderful that the audience just can't bear to let it go. but those should surely be the exception. when you know from a band's set list what three tracks they're going to play as encores, it sort of diminishes the impact. and even if you don't, you know that if there are a couple of major "hits" [i use the term in its broadest possible sense] missing from the main set that it's a lock you're going to get an encore that includes them. and although we all know that live shows aren't as spontaneous as they seem, it does seem a bit insulting all around to have to go through the steps of a ritual whose outcome is predetermined.

i've certainly been part of howling throngs in my time, playing my little part to perfection, but i find that my patience gets thinner as my tolerance for bullshit decreases. every time i see this bizarre little sub-clause of the social contract kick in, i hear a small voice in my brain groaning "you know you're coming back. we know you're coming back. just bloody get on with it."

if a band or artist wants to take a break, that's fine, but don't pretend that things are ending when we all know perfectly well that they aren't.

i don't know how you curb this tendency, since it's become part of the expected sequence of events in the rock show and both sides are acting out their part, but i have some hope that it's something that will fade from popularity and go back to being something that really is reserved for the most exceptional performances.

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