Op Ed: Change The Set List

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This op-ed is a long time coming. This is one topic I’m sure most, if not all, of you will agree with. This is something that has been happening for quite a while, and over the last few years has really become an epidemic. Bands sticking to the same set list night after night, thus creating a massively boring and predictable show. I’ve been seeing it happen with a lot of bands and it’s really getting to me. It’s one thing if you only have one album but, when you are on your third album or more, it’s time to change it up. You wrote those songs for a reason, so play them. I’m not going to by a ticket to the show just to hear the “hits” or singles. When a band has a catalog, I would expect them to really dig in and create a set-list that is full of gusto and history.

You can go to setlist.fm and look up any band that is playing a show and see what they have played from show to show. That’s a great thing, but it’s really annoying to see so many bands playing it completely safe and playing the same things night after night. I’m sure most of the people in the band are even sick of it. I look at a band like Pearl Jam, they have ten albums now and every night they bring out a different set list. They are making each night special and unique. Sure, they might play certain songs/covers more often but there is no denying that they take the time to create something that truly stands out. Bruce Springsteen is another one that does that too. They really understand that these live shows are more than just routine, they have to be something memorable.

I look at bands that I’ve loved for a long time and I know when they announce a tour, they are going to be playing the live staples and maybe throw in a couple new songs, but for the most part, it’s all the same, and that really makes me, as a fan, disappointed. Recently, I was in Las Vegas to see Nine Inch Nails. I went to two of the three nights he played out there. Each night they played, Trent designed the set list to be different from each night. Sure there were “those songs” that he has to play, but he really made sure to play deep cuts and fan favorites. A band like Nine Inch Nails knows what they have to do to keep their audience coming back. They not only have the songs and catalog that people want to hear but every time you see them, it’s different, and that is what is missing from today’s live shows.

I’m tired of hearing the same songs from the bands I like. Change it up. As I mentioned above, you wrote all these songs, why not play them? Are you afraid? Do you think they aren’t good? Whatever it is, you bands out there really need to do something about it. Billboard magazine puts out a thing a couple times a month that shows the attendance of concerts all over the world. I’ve noticed a huge trend of bands not getting the people in the seats. A lot of these bands that aren’t getting the numbers in the seats are the same bands that keep playing the same songs over and over again. People aren’t dumb (well that is debatable), but they aren’t going to pony up the cash to go see the same show they have already seen before. I’ve stopped going to a lot of shows for that reason.

I really stress to bands with multiple albums to start changing things up. Play the deep cuts and the songs the fans really dig. Don’t worry about catering to the radio markets and the people that only know you for “that” song. I’m sure by now a band like Metallica is probably sick of playing “Enter Sandman”. I know I’m sick of that song, but they play it every night (now dead last as par of their encore) because there is always that one person that’s never seen them live and that’s the song they want to hear. Stop catering to that person. It’s too bad they haven’t heard it live before. Enough is enough. Start retiring songs from the set list too. Radiohead did that years ago with “Creep”. It was removed from the set-list and now it’s one of those songs that gets played very rarely. I like to think that if Nirvana were still around, I strongly believe Kurt would have stopped playing “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

This “rant” is something that should be taken seriously. People are going to stop coming to the shows if something doesn’t change. Live in the moment. Take a chance and a risk. Create something memorable. Don’t worry about the lighting cues and all that. If your lighting person can’t do certain things on the fly, then maybe you need to find someone that is actually qualified to do the job. After all, it’s the fans that have given you all that you have. You, the bands, owe it to us, the fans, to get our money’s worth and give us something remarkable. This isn’t an entitlement thing or anything remotely like that. This is about standing out and leaving a real mark.
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