Does anyone actually enjoy the charade?
The encore dates back as far as the 1700s when audiences at operas and classical music performances would demand, often mid-show, that a song be repeated. Sometimes, a musician would play the same song several times to please the crowd. The word encore derives from the French word encore and the Italian word ancora, both of which translate to “again, some more”. Despite the origins of the word, both French and Italian audiences would shout “bis” when requesting an encore, which means twice, as they literally wanted a replica of what they just heard.
It is worth noting that in the days before recorded music, live performances were the only opportunities for people to listen to their favourite musician or composition and in some cases, concert timeframes would double as a result of persistent cries for more.
Encores didn’t last in the world of classical music, though. Many venues deemed the practice as disruptive to the flow of a performance and issued a ban. However, we have seen a resurgence of the encore in popular music since. The notorious phrase “Elvis has left the building” was spawned in 1956 when his press agent announced as much in a bid to placate a crowd clamouring for more from The King who had already slipped out a back exit after leaving the stage.
Encores certainly had their place, and still do when they are genuinely spontaneous or serve a purpose, though the more expected they become the more tiresome the whole façade grows. As is the nature of modern live performances which involve stage lighting, sound engineering and noise curfews, it is kind of essential to plan what will happen on stage, but does anyone actually enjoy the charade of an act walk offstage only to return two minutes later, feigning surprise before belting out their biggest hits?
Encores have become so expected that chants for “one more song” are often half-hearted. If there is still a chunk of scheduled playing time left when the band leaves the stage, it’s blatantly obvious that the show isn’t over yet and there is little need to stomp and shout. In fact, we’ve grown so accustomed to guaranteed encores that fans feel jilted when a band doesn’t return after bidding the audience goodnight. It isn’t until the houselights come up that people realise the last song was exactly that. It seems almost unfinished. The crowd linger awkwardly, looking around for signs of return until roadies begin carting instruments and amps from the stage. We’re like children who have been told their bedtime is in an hour only to cry and scream when that hour is up, begging for a little while longer.
That’s not to say that all pre-planned encores are boring or unnecessary, but if you’re coming back without an unexpected guest in tow or an elaborate costume change, what was the point in leaving the stage at all? When encores began, they served as a genuine plea for more. Bands and artists would evoke such excitement that when the performance reached its end, the audience weren’t ready for it to be over. Of course, this can still be said in many cases, though it often feels as though we are simply going through the motions or stroking an artist’s ego as they linger backstage waiting for the appropriate amount of time to pass before re-appearing.
In 2017, The Smith Street Band played a handful of consecutive shows at Forum Theatre in which I attended on a different night than a friend. When talking about the shows later, I learnt that Wil Wagner had invited his dad on stage for an encore the night my friend went – something that hadn’t happened when I attended. While I was quietly jealous about missing out, I also respected that the one-off nature of such a moment made it much more authentic. Wagner wasn’t carting his dad back and forth every night to elicit a carbon-copy experience night after night, and that is what makes a performance truly special.
In short, the art of a well-executed pre-planned encore is difficult to master. Client Liaison have managed to take the drudgery of predictability and play with it, utilizing the opportunity to change outfits and emerge with a surprise of some sort up their sleeve. When I last saw Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, Savage reiterated throughout her performance that she would play through her set and no amount of cheering would prompt an encore and I walked out of there with a grin on my face.
The encore has obviously become a staple of live music, but it often feels like an afterthought rather than a climax. If the encore doesn’t make a statement, there’s no need to return to the mic.