I’ve been to enough concerts at this point in my life that the schedule of a show is pretty predictable. Gone are the days of rock bands coming on stage an hour a half late, completely trashed and playing three-hour sets. This largely has to do with restrictions on venue curfews and contractually required set list lengths, where bands just don’t have the same artistic freedom that they used to.
The encore is an opportunity for the band to move away from the usual program. Sometimes they take a unique approach to one of their well-known songs, play covers of their favourite artists, but almost always save their best for last. Encores were traditionally spontaneous and not a guaranteed portion of the set, which makes it ironic that encores are now the most looked forward to part of the performance. Bands almost always leave the biggest fan favourites for the very end to leave audiences buzzing on that concert high.
So how did we get here? How have encores become an integrated part of the set that we scream and cheer for relentlessly, knowing the band is just standing beside some brooms and wires in the wings of the stage, waiting for their cue to come back on?
The history of encores
The origin of the word ‘encore’ dates back to early 18th century French, meaning “still, again.” It was actually used in operas and classical music to encourage the musicians to quite literally “play again,” but specifically repeat a piece they had just finished, or that the audience particularly liked. The crowd would sometimes start applauding in the middle of the song to make this known, interrupting the program. You have to imagine this is a time where people didn’t have the luxury of listening to their favourite song at any moment, they would have to wait to see it performed live – and sometimes once just isn’t enough. Encores would honor extraordinary classical musicians for extraordinary performances. What the word never meant was “please play more,” so who were the musical giants that formed this shift in live music expectations?
The rise of the encore
When rock music first began to find its roots, legends like Elvis Presley never played encores, a decision by his manager Col. Tom Parker intending to leave audiences wanting more.
(Audiences members screaming uncontrollably at the Mississippi Alabama Fair as Elvis Presley performs his first number one hit in the US “Heartbreak Hotel,” released January 1956.)
As encores were contained to headliners, the famous phrase “Elvis has left the building” was used at the beginning of his career to calm audiences and encourage them to return to their seats so the acts following Presley could begin. Once Presley’s fame erupted, he would politely end with “thank you, and good night,” to imply that there would be no encore following, sending audiences into a frenzy.
(Sourced from Radio Laser)
In the 1960s and 70s when the rock concerts really started to explode, encores were saved for legendary performances. The artists who had exceptional performances and exceptional audience response reveled in the occasional encore. Some of the most notable ones in rock history include Queen, Jimi Hendrix, and The Who. Even with their lengthy sets and sometimes multiple encores, these were still a treat for audiences, as artists had the freedom to shape their performances however they wanted.
(Queen playing “Bohemian Rhapsody,” during their iconic performance at Wembley Stadium. They were known for using this as their final song before an equally as passionate encore.)
The fall of the encore
At some point between these grandiose performances and the streamlining of concert schedules, people became conditioned to expect encores. An article by Mental Floss describes the transition being formed by artists like Bruce Springsteen, or Bob Dylan, who turned their concerts into “iron-man” events, playing for hours, song after song, never letting the show end with continual encores. Springsteen, known as “The Boss,” was notorious for his four-hour marathons, staggering back to the stage with the E Street Band, their sweat and stamina part of the spectacle. LA Times wrote “You left a Springsteen show drained and you assumed he left on a stretcher. The encores started three hours into the evening and they felt like resurrections, each more improbable than the one before it.”
(Bruce Springsteen playing “Born in the USA” at Parc De La Courneuve during one of his “iron-man” performances in the 80s.)
At this point the encore expectation began to creep its way into the minds of audience members, and they were seen as cliché. Once unscripted, bands have become actors who shout “goodnight” to their crowd, only to return with a choreographed performance synced with lights, video, and special effects for that last extra pizzazz. But that’s showbiz baby.
(Sourced from Giphy.com)
Some people are disappointed with the way concerts have changed over time, but I personally love the inclusion of encores. To me, those few minutes in between the last song and the encore act as a breather. It gives me a moment to take in the show so far, and builds tension towards the grand finale that I know is going to be unforgettable.
Above all, most fans just want to hear more of their favourite band. They’d like a chance to express their gratitude – and have that gratitude acknowledged, with just “one more song!”.
What are some of the most memorable encores you’ve seen? Crazy effects? Unbelievable covers? Hearing your favourite song played twice?
Header image sourced from Zero.eu