As a live music fan, there’s something that really grates on me. And it’s not the tallest guy in the room, who always seems to seek me out just so he can stand right in front of me.
No, it’s the encore.
I find them so cheesy and ridiculous. A band or an artist will play a really amazing set and then casually walk offstage, only to return minutes later, while everyone screams and chants their name. It feels like ego-stroking in its purest form.
At the end of a concert, right after an act has walked offstage and with the lights still off, I’ll usually look at my friends, roll my eyes and say, “They’ll be back. They always come back.”
And they always do.
It never occurred to me that musicians find this tradition just as awkward and tedious as the rest of us until I went to George Ezra’s Sydney concert last month.
Right before the end of the show, he looked out at the crowd and said something along the lines of: “Right. I’m going to go offstage now, but you know I’m coming back.”
He then paused, seemingly bored out of his brain by the whole encore bit, too.
“I can never understand the point of encores, but my manager says I have to do them,” he added.
Everyone laughed in agreement, because, let’s face it, encores are super cringey.
I know it, you know it, and George Ezra – he of the velvety vocals – knows it, too.
But still, musicians continue to do them. Every. Single. Damn. Time.
It made me think there must be some historical significance behind them, so I did some investigating, and as usual, I was right.
Although they are carefully planned for now - most acts today will usually save their biggest hits for their encore performance - they originated spontaneously.
They first became popular back in the 18th century. If the audience applauded for an extended period of time after an opera performance had ended, the performers would usually return to the stage for additional acts.
The word "encore" is French, and translates to "again, some more". This is what audiences in Europe would chant when they wanted a repeat performance.
Basically, it was all about giving the people what they wanted, especially since recorded music wasn't a thing back then. If people wanted to hear a song, it would have to be played live.
Not everyone was a fan of encores though.
In 1786, Emperor Joseph II of Austria actually issued an order limiting the number of encore performances for the production of Figaro.
And in the mid-19th century, encores were banned altogether in northern Italy, with authorities fearing they would lead to public disorder.
More recently, as pop music grew in popularity, encores crossed over from the opera scene to rock concerts.
Interestingly, most supporting acts are banned from playing encores, so they don't upstage the main act. (See, I knew there was some ego at play here.)
One artist who never played encores was Elvis Presley. His manager, Colonel Tom Parker, told him he should always leave the audience wanting more, which is how the phrase, "Elvis has left the building," originated. It would be announced to his fans over a loudspeaker so they knew he wasn't coming back.
The Beatles also refused to do encores, but for security reasons. After their set had finished, they'd literally have to run off the stage and immediately leave the venue to escape the hordes of hysterical fans.
Other acts are known to play multiple encores. Bob Dylan would sometimes play four, while The Cure could play up to five.
And some acts just hate them with a rather graphic passion. New Order frontman Peter Hook compared playing a set to having sex, and described the encore as "being forced to having another go after you’d had an orgasm", according to Mental Floss.
It doesn't make me like encores any more, but at least now we know why they happen.
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