Hot Take: Encores Are the Fucking Worst

Let me paint a picture for you: the summer of 2016, the Ottawa Jazz Festival, a vast expanse of jewel-green grass dotted with retirees in lawn chairs. I go to a lot of shows, but I do not go to a lot of shows targeted at baby boomers, so I had not brought a lawn chair. I was prepared to stand, as I do at every outdoor festival, for the duration. No big deal. I’m young. My joints are healthy. It wouldn’t be an especially long program, anyway. Two acts on the bill: a local jazz quartet, and Brian Wilson doing Pet Sounds.

Now, some things to consider here: Brian Wilson, at the time of this tour, was 74 years old. Brian Wilson has a long, well-documented history of serious health issues. Brian Wilson played a hundred shows in 2016, which would be a backbreaking tour schedule for anyone, let alone a 74-year-old man with a long, well-documented history of serious health problems.

Nonetheless, consummate professional that he is, Brian Wilson managed to give us a terrific show that day. A dozen of the Beach Boys’ greatest hits, followed by Pet Sounds from cover to cover, capped off with “Good Vibrations.” I was reminded throughout that this was very much a fiftieth anniversary tour, that Brian Wilson had been playing these songs for a long, long time, so long that he had to pass the high notes off to younger singers in his backing band, so long that he remained seated at his piano for the whole set, no longer able to stand and sing simultaneously.

As the band careened to the conclusion of “Good Vibrations,” spinning it into an unruly jam, Brian Wilson signaled to someone in the wings. An attendant hopped out onto the stage, helped him off the bench and onto his feet, and then supported him as he walked off the stage. And I thought, Wow. I thought, How incredible that he’s still here, still playing these songs for us, still giving it his all. The rest of the band took their bows and left the stage. I snapped a few final pictures, made sure I had my stuff, and began to make my way to the festival gates, hoping to beat the crowd out.

And then I heard, Encore! Encore! Encore! One more song! One more song! One more song!

Now, like, on one level, I get it. Y’all traveled from far and wide to see Brian Wilson do Pet Sounds, and y’all want your money’s worth. But on a much deeper, more human level, I was just like… really? Fucking really? Every single one of you brought a lawn chair to this event because you knew the prospect of standing upright for hours on end would be more exertion than you could bear. You must know that putting on a show for two hours takes substantially more energy than sitting through a show for two hours, especially if you’re older, especially if you’re goddamned 74. And you just saw Brian Wilson signal his exhaustion to an offstage attendant midway through the final number, and then you saw him lean on said attendant as he arose from his bench and shuffled wearily into the wings. And you’re still like, “Fuck you, dude! Fuck your post-show nap! I’m not fucking leaving ’til I hear ‘Barbara Ann!'”

Part of me hoped that someone would hop out onto the stage and be like, “Hey, guys! In case you’ve all forgotten, Brian Wilson is 74 fucking years old! And not like Harrison Ford 74; like, normal person 74. Brian Wilson is not going to be leading an Indiana Jones reboot and doing his own stunts anytime soon. He’s played two dozen songs for you tonight, and now he wants to get his eight hours in before we load up and drive to Toronto tomorrow. Go home, all of you. Peace and blessings.”

But no. The band walked back out. The same attendant who’d helped Brian Wilson off the stage only moments before helped him right back onto it. Ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-barbara Ann commenced.

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He gets tired!

People are fucking sociopaths about encores. They don’t care if you’re old, if you’re tired, if you haven’t seen your loved ones in months, if you’ve been subsisting on dollar cheeseburgers and watery coffee because your bassoonist stole your per diem to buy weed, if you can’t remember what a mattress feels like because you only sleep sitting up now, in the van, with a pane of dusty glass or your sound tech’s shoulder for a pillow. They don’t care if you’ve just spent two hours busting your ass and shutting up and playing the hits. They want three more minutes. They want one more song. They are insatiable.

Guys. Encores are only fun if they are optional. That’s the whole point. If the audience has been especially appreciative, if the band’s really feeling good about how the show went, then an encore unfolds as a special little surprise. It’s not mandatory. You’re not entitled to it. Nothing baffles me more than the people who hop on Twitter and fucking rage when a band declines to come out for an encore after a full set. Imagine going to a diner and ordering a deluxe two-patty cheeseburger with a side of steaming-hot salty fries and a tall, frosty chocolate shake with whipped cream and a cherry on top. Imagine scarfing down all that sumptuous food, and then when the waitress comes out with your bill, you’re like, “Fucking excuse me, bitch? Where’s the little breath mint that comes with the receipt? I am not leaving here until I get my little breath mint.” And the waitress is like, “I’m so sorry, but we’re out of breath mints,” and you’re like, “Fuck you, waitress. No breath mints? No tip.” That’s you, whining about encores. You are that big of a dick.

And that’s to say nothing of bad encores, encores that serve only to kill the mood so carefully cultivated by everything that came before. Case in point: I went to see Lorde in March, in a blow-out arena spectacular with sixteen back-up dancers and ten thousand screaming fans. She played nearly every song on Melodrama, most of Pure Heroine, that one really good loosie from the Hunger Games soundtrack. And then she sang “Royals,” and then she sang, “Perfect Places,” and then she sang, “Green Light,” and we all bounced in unison, all shouting I’M WAITING FOR IT THAT GREEN LIGHT I WANT IT as the sky opened up above us and rained little stars of confetti onto the crowd. The lights went out. The crowd went apeshit. Three perfect songs in a row; one explosive final flourish. That, I thought, is how you close a fucking show.

And then she came out two minutes later and was like, “Hey, guys! We’ve somehow agreed as a culture that a show isn’t complete without an encore, so here’s a downbeat bonus track from the Japanese edition of Melodrama that none of you know the words to! Whoo! Let’s party!”

I wanted so badly, in that moment, to put my hands gently on her shoulders, to look her deep in her sparkling green eyes, to tell her, You don’t have to do this, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor. You don’t have to shit up your beautifully choreographed, confetti-spattered conclusion with a downbeat outtake from your last Jungle City session with Jack Antonoff. You don’t owe anyone a goddamned encore. You don’t have to live like this.

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Pictured: Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, popularly known as “Lorde,” expressing profound relief and gratitude upon hearing that she doesn’t have to do any more goddamned encores, ever again, gif via socialnetworklesbian.

No more. No more, I say. The age of the encore is done. You’re going to watch the set, and you’re going to say, “That was great,” and then you’re going to go home, and then you’re going to go to sleep. If you awake, you a fake. It’s bedtime, bitch.

4 thoughts on “Hot Take: Encores Are the Fucking Worst

  1. Aud says:

    I agree!!! I saw Gorillaz at a festival last year. They almost exclusively played stuff off their new album (Humanz) and brought out a lot of featured artists to sing their parts. And left without playing DARE. It kinda felt like a power move on Damon’s part because they were a closing act on the final day but also I still enjoyed the show 🙂 I think it was the first time I hadn’t seen an encore as a frequent concert goer. Miley Cyrus once closed out her hannah montana concert with a rendition of I Miss You. total bummer

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  2. olv says:

    I saw Grimes live in Toronto about two / three years ago and despite all her Musk-related transgressions I still hold a small piece of fondness in my heart for her based solely on the fact that she stood on stage and announced to the entire crowd “This will be my final song. I will not be coming out for an encore. Please do not ask me for one. It makes me extremely anxious and you don’t understand how stressful it is for performers. Thank you”. Like…. I felt that.

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    • Peyton says:

      oh dude i was at the exact same show and i remember being so impressed by that! i should have mentioned it in the article. she closed with kill v. maim, too, it was perfect.

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  3. mmgflonase says:

    I’m of the same opinion with different reasoning: namely that concertgoer shouldn’t have to beg the artist to play music. It’s shitty and undignified for both parties. My favorite concert I’ve gone to was from Dawes, and he pretty much said the same thing

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