Once more with feel­ing

Some bands won’t do them. Oth­ers in­sist you en­dure two or three. But very few mu­si­cians still de­liver en­cores as a spon­ta­neous re­sponse to au­di­ence de­mands. Cian Traynor asks what they’re re­ally for

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Music -

IN PRAC­TICE, the en­core makes lit­tle sense: the band pre­tends to say good­night, hold­ing the au­di­ence to ran­som for adu­la­tion and ap­plause. Then, feign­ing spon­tane­ity, they re­turn to the stage and launch into the songs every­one has been wait­ing all night to hear. Th­ese days it’s ex­pected rather than earned, planned rather than ad-libbed. Yet we still feel short-changed when the likes of Al Green or Van Mor­ri­son refuse to per­form en­cores.

Manic Street Preach­ers are one of the few acts to have main­tained a no-en­core pol­icy from their in­cep­tion, hav­ing per­formed just one in their 23-year ca­reer. But what be­gan as a “de­luded man­i­fest to change the world” was tested in 1991 when man­age­ment goaded them into re­turn­ing to the stage – only to find that nearly every­one had left.

“From that mo­ment on we re­alised that it wasn’t for us,” says the band’s Nicky Wire. “Even when we played the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium to 65,000 peo­ple on New Year’s Eve, we still didn’t do one. It just seems like a gi­gan­tic an­ti­cli­max. The en­core is like a mar­ket­ing tool; it’s this idea that you’re get­ting more value for money when re­ally it’s the same songs with a rest in-be­tween. For us it just seems a bit false.”

How­ever the Man­ics have found this a dif­fi­cult ideal to sus­tain, of­ten see­ing mem­o­rable per­for­mances soured when au­di­ence an­tic­i­pa­tion turns to boos and be­wil­der­ment.

“We’ve had a lot of trou­ble about this, to be hon­est. Over the years, peo­ple in­volved in the record com­pany would say: ‘We’ve never had this from a band be­fore. Did you hate the au­di­ence?’ And we’d be com­ing off stage think­ing it was one of the best gigs we’ve ever done. There have been oc­ca­sions where a gig has been so rap­tur­ous that you do feel that slight in­cli­na­tion. You feel like giv­ing more... but I think we’ve learned from ex­pe­ri­ence. It gives us a lit­tle bit of sep­a­ra­tion as well.

“As long as there’s bands like Cold­play there’s al­ways go­ing to be en­cores. So I’m ac­tu­ally quite proud of it. Not in a su­pe­rior way; it just feels hon­ourable. I think peo­ple re­spect it and it’s trav­elled with us.”

French film-maker Vin­cent Moon is wary of en­cores. As some­one who has trav­elled around the world in pur­suit of live mu­sic, cap­tur­ing tours by Ar­cade Fire and REM, he be­lieves bands have a duty to cre­ate a bond with the au­di­ence. En­cores, he be­lieves, have lit­tle artis­tic merit.

“I love when peo­ple can dis­til what they’re do­ing to a very short amount of time,” he says. “If you’re con­scious of cre­at­ing a spe­cial show, you’ll be able to make the au­di­ence


ac­cept that they don’t need an en­core. And if you have two hours on stage to per­form how­ever you want, why would you do the ex­act same thing that ev­ery­body does? It’s pretty stupid if you think about it.”

But dis­rupt­ing a long-stand­ing tra­di­tion is not easy. The en­core be­gan in the early 18th cen­tury, when audiences would in­ter­rupt per­for­mances de­mand­ing to hear cer­tain move­ments again. As the in­dus­trial age en­abled com­posers to travel around Europe, the idea of not let­ting them leave the stage al­tered the for­mula of the recital per­ma­nently.

Pieces were writ­ten specif­i­cally for en­cores, and sets were short­ened to squeeze more of them in. De­spite end­less mod­i­fi­ca­tions, from the fi­nal­ity of the phrase “Elvis has left the build­ing” to U2 segue­ing into five en­cores through a video mes­sage from Des­mond Tutu, the ex­pec­ta­tion per­sists.

Hav­ing been to over 5,200 live shows, Ray Mor­ris­sey is pos­si­bly the world’s most pro­lific gig-goer. Now 50, he barely re­sem­bles the young punk pic­tured on an early Sex Pis­tols poster, but he still sees three or four shows a week. Though he misses the days where punk bands would de­liver their sets like a brick in flight, Mor­ris­sey feels the en­core has be­come too em­bed­ded in tra­di­tion to dis­re­gard.

“Th­ese days bands come back on when they don’t even get any ap­plause,” he says. “You can see on the set list that there are three en­cores com­ing. But if you just say good­night, you lose that mo­ment of an­tic­i­pa­tion.”

One band that unashamedly pan­ders to the au­di­ence is Yes, whose dis­plays of 1970s progrock in­dul­gence has earned them a leg­endary live rep­u­ta­tion. Dou­ble, triple and some­times quadru­ple en­cores are typ­i­cally re­served for sig­na­ture hits such as Round­about and Owner of a Lonely Heart - tracks they have tried play­ing in the main set only to be met with dis­dain from the au­di­ence.

“It’s part of the rou­tine,” ex­plains bassist Chris Squire, who has been tour­ing the band for four decades. “The mo­men­tum of the show is just geared to­wards that for­mat. In most places we play they don’t like peo­ple stand­ing up dur­ing the show. But they give that lit­tle al­lowance for the last cou­ple of songs.”

From an au­di­ence’s per­spec­tive, Squire re­calls be­ing let down by a Black Crowes en­core ear­lier this year. “When they came back on I thought: ‘Well, they’re ob­vi­ously go­ing to do their fa­mous hit’ ... but they didn’t. I said to Chris [Robin­son] af­ter­wards: ‘That’s weird, isn’t it? Not play­ing the song every­one loves?’ And he said: ‘We’re pur­posely not do­ing it for that rea­son’. But I don’t think peo­ple were sat­is­fied.”

In a way, at­tempt­ing to re­ward ev­ery au­di­ence has robbed en­cores of what made them spe­cial in the first place: the thought that your ap­plause could lead to a one-off. Girls, a band from Cal­i­for­nia, are part of a new wave of acts try­ing to re-in­tro­duce that dash of spon­tane­ity.

“I kind of shoot from the hip,” says singer Christo­pher Owen, who, if he does an en­core at all, prefers to play a cover or some­thing new. “I don’t think I’d ever hold back the best songs for the en­core. It’s an or­ganic sit­u­a­tion that’s prob­a­bly dif­fer­ent all the time. But I don’t think you have the right to call the band back out ei­ther; no­body should re­sent a band for not do­ing an en­core. Some­times the end has to be the end.”

Mu­sic his­to­rian Colin Law­son be­lieves the en­core will be with us for years to come. Sit­ting in his of­fice as di­rec­tor of Lon­don’s Royal Col­lege of Mu­sic, the Al­bert Hall loom­ing in the back­ground, Law­son ex­plains that the en­core helps dif­fer­en­ti­ate the live ex­pe­ri­ence from recorded mu­sic.

“You can tell your CD player what to play, but it’s not quite the same thing as get­ting some­body back on stage. There’s a cult of per­son­al­ity in mu­sic which makes that in­evitable. It’s part of be­ing an en­ter­tainer,” he says.

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