Near the end of A Perfect Circle’s Beacon Theatre show earlier this month, Maynard James Keenan asked the audience to engage in a thought experiment of sorts. “We’re going to pretend we all left the stage for a few minutes,” he told the crowd. “We’re just going to stay here and do a couple more songs”—and forego the charade of the encore, that seemingly mandated pause just after a concert’s climax to sustain the moments before its denouement. At the time I chalked this aesthetic decision up to Keenan and his band’s low tolerance for bullshit (a quality that makes their take on gloomy hard rock much easier to swallow than other, wankier acts in their realm), but in the two weeks since I saw that show I’ve experienced two other acts—both at the large-scale level, I should note—skip the idea of the encore, too, in favor of cramming more songs into their allotted time.
Last week’s Mötley Crüe show at Nassau Coliseum was Example A; the pacing seemed to have longer-than-usual pauses in between songs as the night’s end neared, but there was no proper break during which the lights went down and the crowd was encouraged to go crazy. This caused some consternation from other showgoers (one person actually asked me my thoughts while he was waiting in line for the bathroom), who were, presumably, used to the old way of pacing a show and who felt like they weren’t getting their money’s worth, even if the band did play for a full 90 minutes. (To be fair, Nikki Sixx wasn’t all that pleased with the people in attendance, either.)
And last night’s Lil Wayne gig at the PNC Bank Arts Center also lacked a moment when the lights dimmed and the crowd was forced to clap. People didn’t really seem to mind, though; quite a few were actually taking their leave during “Six Foot Seven Foot” so they could win the game of Beat The Traffic, or Get The First Shuttle Bus Back To The Train Station Home.
Obviously these are only three examples (and Taylor Swift, the other large-scale show I’ve seen in this timeframe, did have an encore at the end of her set), but it’s enough to make me wonder: Is this the beginning of the encore-as-expected-aspect-of-a-set going away at the higher levels of pop music? And really, if it does, is it going to be missed across the board?
Surely the “clap as loud as you can” ego-boost and its resultant “reward” is at times faked on both sides; there have been times when the clock-watching by both performers and audience has been palpable. I haven’t been to many non-festival shows by smaller acts lately, so maybe this is just a mini-phenomenon that’s happening at higher-capacity venues, where time overruns can equal cost overruns—a suicidal move in today’s watch-every-penny music climate. Or is it yet another nod toward the idea that the “mystery” surrounding pop has been dissipated, and yes, we all know that bands are going to do a couple more songs to run their sets through the top of the hour, so why not just cram in more music and leave the applause for the show’s end and free everyone from the Catholic Mass-style rituals of standing and sitting and clapping on cue?