Encore, no more

I’ve had it with encores. I can see maybe one. ONE. But four? Seriously? Jeff Tweedy, I love you so much and still, I felt like you ruined your show with too many encores. End the show with your cute kid playing drums, go towel down your face, drink some water, and treat us to some acappella styling. But don’t leave three times and then tempt me with a glance. Don’t make me beg for more. It’s late. I got here too early. My heels aren’t comfy.

But more than that, this multiple encore-ing is taking a great show and, for me, slowly letting the air out of it. I think/hope an artist carefully selects the order of songs for their show, laying the track for whatever emotional roller coaster they want to take us on. And a good show, like a good movie, will build and build and maybe there’s a surprise or two and then boom, a great ending. A fabulous last song (“Don’t Stop Believin'”) is like a great last line (“I’m having an old friend for dinner.”).

Encores are, for me, the outtakes that roll during credits. Fun, but afterthoughtish, even if the encore is the big hit everyone’s been waiting for. Because when the lights go down and we raise our lighters in wait, the spell, is for the moment, broken. We’re wondering how bad traffic will be getting home. If there’s any hope of going to the restroom first. Why not build the encores into the show?

And if there must must be an encore, I’m most satisfied when the headliner comes back and does a song – a cover, ideally – with the opening band. The opening act gets a taste of what their future will be and the headliner says thanks for unloading your drums and doing a soundcheck at three in the afternoon.

A pal I work with told me about a show he saw in college. There were multiple opening acts for a band, including a stand-up comedian. In the encore, the headliners returned to play with all the opening acts. Everyone got a solo – the drummers drummed, the bassist thumthumthummed and the comedian told a joke. In the spirit of the word, everyone played. He said he felt completely content when the lights came up.

There are different kinds of encores, to be sure. And the ones that make the most sense to me make the most of the space between the last song and the encore. Madonna, for example. She can get away with four encores because she does a major costume and set change each time. She leaves wearing polka-dot pants and returns to be crucified or riding a bull on a rotating turntable. All this is very exciting.

What’s not exciting is having someone like, say Jeff Tweedy, walk off only to stroll back on stage multiple times. It was too much. Too long. Each time was great but why not just hang out with us? I didn’t want the show to end, but I wanted the encore to end.

Aimee Mann handled the end of a show the best I’ve seen: granted, she was playing in a club that really didn’t have a backstage, but when she finished her set, she said, “Okay everybody, close your eyes and pretend I walked off stage, you clapped madly and so I came back. Okay, I’m walking…” and we clapped and she went right into her next song. And the overall effect only enhanced her show. The song, which may have been “Driving Sideways,” felt integral to her show, felt a part of the satisfying climax, and was much more fun than the starts and stops of a long dragging out.

We all want love; an encore gives a fair amount of validation to the artist and also let us show and tell with our woop woops how much the artists mean to us. Curtain calls do the same thing. But is it odd that encores have become expected? Is it even odder when the singer seems surprised that they’ve been asked back to the stage for an eighth time?

The problem I have, really, I think, is that there are no encores in life. You are with someone – a parent, or a lover, or a child – and when your time with them ends, no matter how hard you clap, they’re still gone, or still out of your life, or still an adult. No matter how hard you clap, that part of your life with them is over.

In the play Peter Pan, Peter tells the audience, if they clap hard enough, Tinkerbell will come back to life. “If you believe,” he says, “clap your hands like this!” There’s usually much applauding and very soon, the small barely twinkling light (which is how she’s portrayed on stage) starts to glow alive again. That’s how the scene is supposed to go, anyway. There was a community theater production, which was later incorporated into a Christopher Durang play, where a drunk Peter told the audience they didn’t clap hard enough and that “Tinkerbell is deaaaaaaaaad.”

Perhaps that anecdote is truer to real life. No matter how hard you clap, you can’t bring some people back. Encores make us think you can.

The lights are on and the place is empty. But here I am, standing here, still clapping.

One response to “Encore, no more”

  1. JaneAnne says:

    I’m much more peeved by the low threshold for standing ovations. I sang in a concert last weekend, and we received standing Os at both performances, thoroughly undeserved but nevertheless enthusiastically given. Stop it already! so I can get off stage and take off these shoes. My feet are killing me.