Dear rock bands: it’s time to kill the encore (and other concert-saving tips)
We were reminiscing about our youth the other day, as people my age tend to do, and we got to talking about concerts. We took turns telling tales of stadium and arena shows, stories straight out of Heavy Metal Parking Lot. Ah, the good old days. When tickets were sold in tiers of $7.50, &8.50 and $9.50 and you had to wait in line – not online - to get them. A few people began lamenting the demise of arena shows when I said “Oh, arena and stadium concerts, even festivals are still alive. They’re just on life support.” Not a day later someone sent me a link to this article, which lent proof to my theory that big, live shows are almost ready to flatline.
The article lists a lot of reasons why promoters are having a hard time selling out big name shows; namely, they’ve become too costly thanks to presales, resales, scalpers and the general greed of the music industry. It also lists a few ways promoters and artists could make their shows more appealing to the wallets of fans. But I, a veteran of arena and stadium shows, have a few other ideas on how concerts can be improved upon. I’m not even talking about the part before the show where you have to figure out how to get tickets because the presale is only for people who have a certain credit card and the regular sale takes place online only during a time when you’re working and don’t have internet access and the only tickets left at the box office will be single seats with obstructed views. I’m talking about once you finally sell a kidney, the naming rights to your first born child and your soul to afford a single ticket, parking, a a beer and a t-shirt.
I’m looking at the concert schedule for this summer and I see that most of the bands doing the big shows are – let me put this kindly – old. A lot of reunion tours, a lot of shows by bands who cut their teeth on the arena concert. Megadeth and Anthrax, Yes, Meatloaf, Rush, Kiss, Peter Frampton, Foreigner and the Scorpions. The summer tours are shaping up to look like a Who’s Who of Bands Your Parents Liked Before You Were Even Born. The problem with that is while the parents are at these shows, so are their kids. Kids who wear AC/DC t-shirts unironically, kids who act like they discovered Led Zeppelin, kids who think their parents are so cool for having been to the first Kiss tour but will never say so and will only say things like “Mom, isn’t 46 a little old to be listening to Anthrax?” To which you reply “Son, Scott Ian is 46 and he’s in Anthrax.”
So I’ve got a little primer for you, bands who are playing arenas and stadiums this summer. Just a few necessary steps to take to ensure that your summer tour is the smash hit you want it to be with the adults and the kids. Really, these are things that have been bothering me for ages and I’m only now taking the opportunity to share them with you.
Let’s start with, well, the beginning. The start of the show is the form letter of rock and roll.Typically, it goes like this:
The house lights go down. The stage lights go up. The band takes the stage. And then: “How you doing tonight (insert city here)?” Wait for the crowd to respond. Then: “Are you ready to rock and roll tonight (insert city here)?” Wait for response. Decided response isn’t loud enough. Repeat “I said, are you ready to rock and roll (insert city here)?”
We know where we are. We don’t need you to tell us three or four times what city we’re in. Unless that’s for your benefit because you’ve been on the road for weeks and you’re not sure what city you’re in and you’re waiting for the crowd reaction to tell you that you go it wrong. “What? This isn’t New York? Ok then, how you doing tonight, Boise?” That intro is so cliche, anyhow. If you can’t think of anything fresh to say, just come out and start playing because, let’s face it. You really don’t give a shit how we’re doing tonight. You just care that the seats are filled and you’re just sober enough to get through the show and just high enough to not be bothered that the entire front row is taken up by people in suits who use terms like “grow your band’s brand” and spend the entire concert trying to get an AT&T signal.
And please, don’t ask us if we are ready to rock and roll because, really, would we be standing shoulder to shoulder with sweaty strangers in a place that smells like vomit, beer sweat and mullets if we weren’t ready to rock? Just once I’d like to see someone in the audience respond to that query by standing up and saying, “Hey no. I just realized I am not, indeed, ready to rock. I’d like go home now.” I would applaud that guy.
Once you’ve got a few songs under your belt and the crowd is, indeed, rocking and having a great time, don’t stop to have a little moment with us by telling the crowd they are the greatest audience you ever played for. “Really, you guys are spectacular. We’ve never played for a crowd like this. You make us feel so welcome, You’re the best audience ever. This one’s for you!” And then you launch into one of your Greatest Hits. Well, half of us were at the show in Philly the night before and we know damn well you used the same line on them and dedicated the same song to them. Don’t lie to us and tell us we’re beautiful. We know you just want to fuck us and run. And we’re ok with this. This is a rock and roll show. It’s not a date. You don’t have to flatter us. You just have to rock the hell out.
Lastly, we have my pet peeve of concerts: the encore.
The encore is like a parlor trick. “Ok, watch while we say goodbye to the audience and thank them for a wonderful time and then PSYCH! we come back on stage and play again!” Except it’s an old parlor trick. Very old. Everyone knows how this is going to go. You play your last song, which will be your most current radio hit. For reunion tours and bands who haven’t put out an album this decade, it will be your best ballad. The crowd will sing along and everyone will feel good as the song ends and you say “Good night (insert city here)! Thanks for coming! Get home safely! Buy a t-shirt, a poster and a mouse pad commemorating our time together on your way out!” Then the ritual starts. It’s sort of like going to Catholic church where you stand, sit, stand, sit, kneel, sit, stand, kneel, run out the back door before everyone else. The concert ritual goes like this: you says goodnight, crowd applauds wildly as you leave the stage, crowd gets louder after you disappear, feet stomp, hand clap, shouts of “more, more more!” Then – what a surprise! – you’re back on stage singing one of your Golden Hits of Yesterday. This goes on for the next 45 minutes or so, with you doing a song, saying goodnight, waiting for the crowd to get really loud then coming back out until finally, after maybe the fourth time of doing this you break out into whatever your band’s “Freebird” is and the audience goes wild.
Stop it, ok? All that time you spend listening to the crowd scream your name and stomp their feet? Sure it’s good for your ego. But you could have spent that time playing another song instead of making us beg and plead like some musical BSDM game. And then you come out and play that song we all knew you were going to play anyhow. Think about it! Instead of all that empty time spent backstage throwing back a few more beers and grab-assing some groupies, you could have been playing. Instead of probably snickering to yourselves while the older people in the crowd flick their Bics and the kids turn on their iPhone Bic apps, you could have been playing of few your less popular songs. You know, the ones the old school fans like us know all the words to but you don’t play because the kids don’t know them.
These are just a few pointers for you, guys. Get this summer tour rolling right. If we’re going to pay the equivalent of a third world country’s GNP to see you, at least cut out the bullshit and just play us the music we love without all the pandering.
By the way, I hate your most popular song. I’m already in the parking lot by the time you hit the last note and the house lights go up. And I didn’t even buy a t-shirt.