The Virtue of Short Sets

You know who you are. Or maybe you don’t.

Please note: if you want to skip the “get off my lawn” part of this article read the more salient points, skip to the second heading.



Get off my lawn

Maybe I’m just getting old, but unless it’s a huge band that I only get to see every couple years (and even then), I’m ready to hit the old dusty trail after about 30-45 minutes.

I can’t do festivals anymore, unless it’s something like Northwest Terror Fest (and formerly Southwest Terror Fest (and presumably Austin Terror Fest, although I’ve never been)), where the shows are spread out across multiple smaller venues so you aren’t trapped on a barely passable campground with 80,000 of your closest friends and relatives. The last one I tried wasn’t even a real festival. It was Tool, Primus, Clutch, (the) Melvins, and Phantomas at the Glenn Helen Amphitheater in San Bernardino, CA. It was more than enough, and every single one of those bands was someone I was excited to see. We had great seats too. It didn’t matter. The whole thing was pretty miserable. The people were terrible. The sound was mud. The parking was so poorly orchestrated that it took 3 hours and nearly some fist fights to get out. 

Radiohead played for 3 hours. Assholes. The performance was outstanding, but seriously, fuck off with that self-indulgent bullshit. I know, I know…giving people their money’s worth. Maybe I’m in the minority on this one, but for fuck’s sake. They could have played ALL their hits, plus like 5 of their nicely curated deep cuts and capped the night off in under two.

Apparently the Foo Fighters do this every show. Have you ever met anyone who was really into the Foo Fighters? Can you imagine spending 3 hours next to 50,000 white Republican dads, drunk on terrible beer, singing out of tune at the top of their lungs and trying to give you sweaty one-armed hugs and shit? Yikes. Yes I am a hater. I’m aware. 

The “not get off my lawn” part

Why do I think it’s a good idea to play short sets? A few reasons. You can hyper-focus your practice time on fewer songs so you can deliver a better performance. You can pour every ounce of energy you have into those 30-40 minutes and lay waste to the venue. You won’t burn out your audience. Standing around takes energy. Moshing takes more energy. Dancing takes more energy. I see even the most well-intentioned fans start yawning as the fourth band kicks into their 7th song. Even if the performance is absolute fire, this happens. The crowd thins. People head to the bar or outside to smoke. I say stop before that happens. Stop as soon as your set reaches a fever pitch. Stop right when the audience wants one more. Not only will you not burn out the crowd, you’ll leave them wanting, which from a promotional perspective is the best possible thing you could do.

Don’t be the dicks who play for an hour and a half unless you’re able to sell out a place for more than $20 a head. If you can’t do that, and you do that, you’re an asshole. If you can’t do that and you play a short set that fucking rules, you may very well be able to do that at some point in the future.

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