It is the end of the concert: the lights fade, the last chord resonates through the room, the lead singer drops the microphone onto the stage floor with a loud thud as the band leaves the stage. But, the show isn’t over. The whole crowd is stationary, screaming at the top of their lungs as a slow clap begins to rise from the back. Because, it’s not the end of the show: it’s the encore.
The encore is a tradition. French for “again” or “some more,” encore used to be the audiences way of letting the performer know they enjoyed their performance and would like them to play another song. Though the symbolism of the encore still holds true today, it is now more a part of every concert that is expected and often scrutinized more heavily for its greatness in comparison to the rest of the concert. With many artists saving their most popular songs for last, it is frequently a climax for all of the energy the crowd has built up over the show. Each artist approaches it with their own style, but there have been a few noticeable patterns or types of traditional encores displayed of the years of music.
The standard encore is a true representation of something old and something new. Generally, it is two to three songs, based on the number of songs the band has released by the time of the concert. They begin with what hopes to be a new favorite and end with an old favorite or whatever is the normally the latest single, keeping the audience until the very end of the show. GROUPLOVE, the psychedelic, indie pop band known especially for their song “Tounge Tied,” which appeared in a number of commercials, is recognized for their high quality live shows with energy levels off the charts. But, even in their first ever encore, they played a big hit and a less known song from their only release at the time, GROUPLOVE EP.
Sometimes artists end with music totally separate from their regular repertoire. They choose a song from a separate genre, often a traditional song from a religion or cultural group that symbolizes ending or just brings a peaceful ending in sound. Basia Bulat, a folk singer-songwriter from Canada ends her performances with a slow, acoustic rendition of anon old Gospel song called Hush, very different from her electric, harp infused folk.
Another encore option that is not used by many is more of a needed break. For musicians who play very lengthy sets (more then 2 hours), the set is often split into two-hour sets with a five or ten minute breaks in the middle. Technically, the second set was considered the encore, considering the extended break in the middle, even though it often felt like more of a continuation. Many times, these artists would still perform an extra song or two after their second sets a second encore. Bob Marley and The Wailers were famous for their extended live reggae shows setup in this format, often going on for hours and past the set curfew.
Often referred to as “The King of Rock and Roll” or even just “The King,” Elvis Presley famously believed in not having an encore at all. Throughout his musical career, he would politely inform audiences that he had finished and exit the stage. Hence that old saying, “Elvis has left the building!” He was under the impression that with holding the normally obligatory encore was the ultimate way of keeping audiences wanting more. Even on his very last public performance, he ended the concert with his rendition of “Unchained Melody” and left the stage, never to return.
It doesn’t happen often but it definitely does: the rare no encore requested. It takes a special kind of band to play a great set, only to have the crowd leave while the band waits on the side of the stage to return for an encore. Usually, that band is what the music industry likes to call a “one hit wonder.” Wheatus is the originator of that famous 2000’s hit, “Teenage Dirtbag.” The high falsetto voice of Brendan B. Brown, Wheatus’s blonde-haired lead singer with the glasses and the hat, is still touring now 13 years since “Teenage Dirtbag” with a new band supporting him. He often has no set list and asks for requests throughout the whole concert. The few hardcore Wheatus fans in the crowd shout out all the songs they know overtop of the loud screams for “Teenage Dirtbag.” He is a good musician and that puts on a high-energy full set. Yet, as soon as he finishes with “Teenage Dirtbag,” the whole crowd exits the venue while he waits to come back on. (I, myself, attended a Wheatus concert in 2012, and found this to be exactly the case.) The problem, in this case, is that he just doesn’t have any other familiar material, 13 years after his prime years in music. It’s almost as though for him, playing “Teenage Dirtbag” last is his implied encore.
More than just a tradition, the encore has grown to become something of an art form. The way an artist uses the encore to connect with their audience is an important portion of their live show. Whether fast or slow, loud or soft, filled with light or in almost total darkness, the encore is the last chance for an artist to leave their fans wanting more. And most importantly, it’s the reason one should never leave a concert until it is really over.