Bold statement: When a band plays a concert (ne: “gig”), more often than not, there is a template (in a broad sense) that is followed when the setlist is composed. This needs to be commented on.
Underrated website alert: http://www.setlist.fm/
Setlist.fm is an awesome resource for concert goers and although its Wiki-esque architecture doesn’t always lend itself to things like “accuracy”, it still is a wonderful online destination to revisit your favourite concert memories. Just recently, it allowed me to revisit the splendor that was this and this but not this.
Spend five minutes on the website and you’re liable to be struck by how similar a lot of concert setlists are. There is a cadence that bands tend to follow with respect to the energy and approach to setlist architecture. Sequencing is key, not unlike crafting a mix tape or planning a murder in cold blood.
In an effort to kill the guest work (and an excuse to create a PDF), here is the Completely Ignored Setlist Template (CIST) that bands can follow to help them craft exceeding predictable setlists. This is based on a 15-song setlist model (12 tunes in the regular set, three in the encore). Lots of variance in reality of course but nine times out of 10, you could plug and play and your fans would be none the wiser.
PDF Download: Completely Ignored Setlist Template
Song #1: The band’s second biggest hit (or equivalent)!!! This should be a recognizable, high energy number or if not high energy, at least something that builds momentum or anticipation or excitement. Bonus points if it works thematically, as was the case with Pulp’s comeback appearance at the 2011 Reading Festival. Similarly, we should seriously hope that the Smiths never reunite but if they do, is there any doubt that this song will be the opener of their first comeback gig?
Song #2: An exciting song!!! Easily the best baseball analogy of this entry, the #2 song needs to rival the #2 hitter in a batting order. Characteristics will include reliability, focus, grit, etc. This song/hitter is pivotal to keep momentum strong and can seriously thwart the setlist/batting order if it’s a proverbial “rally killer”. Typically an older song BTW.
Song #3: A strong song from the new album This is where we take a step back. Assumedly. Even if your favourite band’s new album is well received, chances are, a majority of the crowd will only have a cursory interest in hearing anything new aside from the track that is widely regarded as the best of the bunch. Everything else will be kind of… meh!!! Bands try to curb this by frontloading with one of their better new tracks. Probably won’t work.
Song #4: A less strong song from the new album See Song #3 and subtract 25 per cent in the interest column. The initial jolt of “hey, the concert has started” will have worn off and upwards of 30-40 per cent of the audience will become a bit antsy. This song probably doesn’t suck but again, the unfamiliarity will cause energy levels to flatten.
Song #5: A reasonably well-received older song By no means the band’s biggest hit but something that should have some level of recognition from the back catalogue. A reaction from a typical audience member would be “I’m glad this isn’t another new song… but this probably isn’t the song I’D choose!” Line-ups at the bar and washrooms will grow by 20-25 per cent during this track, depending on length (of song).
Song #6: New song / rest song / ZZZZZZZZZ The place in the show where half-soused couples start fighting. This song is probably slower and lets the band rest. Don’t be shocked or offended if a band member (or multiple band members) drink beer, juice, cocktails or water during this tune. It may happen.
Song #7: New song / rest song / ZZZZZZZZZ 2.0 The girl or guy walks out. If there’s going to be a fight in the crowd, NOW’S THE TIME!!!
Song #8: Older song with experimental “noodling” It’s true. A lot of bands will go all Grateful Dead at this point in the setlist, either to breathe life into something old or out of sheer tedium. The results could either be awesome or a complete train wreck. Sometimes, it’s both! A recent study shows that a band member will sneak offstage to smoke a cigarette in 20 per cent of concerts during this tune.
Song #9: Obscure B-side or deep album cut Definitely not for the sweethearts, this stage in the setlist is a bit of a “no man’s land” for all but the most diehard fans. It’s the place to slot in that random song from an earlier album that likely wasn’t that good to begin with but at least will give annoying pukes a chance to overemote in an effort to legitimize of their fandom (in their own eyes). It’s alright and OK.
Song #10: Semi-recent hit that girls like and drunk people will get excited about This is where the set gears back up and salvages the concert for those who ain’t into noodling or “deep cuts”. The concert is likely around an hour in by this point. The end of the set is on the horizon. The band is rested and rejuvenated from their delicious water breaks or cigarette pauses. Overall, they’re ready to “bring this home” as they say in amateur sports and really lame boardrooms.
Song #11: Loud, high energy song A bit of a “table setter” for the closer, this song must ensure that lethargy has been cleared from the room (or outdoor space) so the outfit is primed to end things on a high note. This is also the best opportunity for some “random mosh pit” action which could be a fight or could just be some random lush being passed around into oblivion. Probably the best chance for personal injury to occur is during this song.
Song #12: The current single Ok, maybe not the current single but it’s the last song of the set proper and at very least, this should be a song for everybody. Ideally, this song lends itself to a disingenuous extended outro. I mean, everybody knows the encore is to follow but the band needs to act like it’s their last song. Because that’s just what is done.
Aside: Can we seriously ditch this little charade of “will they or won’t they come back out???” at concerts between the main setlist and the encore(s). I get that the band members need to pee or whatever but between the rhythmic applause, the hootin’, the hollering’, the lame chants and the like, it’s a piece of theatre we can do without. Ideally, the venue should include a little countdown clock on-stage a la New Year’s Eve or the TTC so you know the precise moment that the band will return. In short, attending a concert needs to be more like riding public transit.
Song #13: Underwhelming song Chalk this up to the fact the band was likely just in the bathroom and/or smoking dope but the first song of the encore is typically a bit of a letdown. Often, it’ll be some completely forgettable album cut from their new album and it’ll make the audience feel like all their whistling and rhythmic applause was for nothing! #buzzkill
Song #14: Well-received cover song That’s more like it! Hipsters and “serious” music fans loathe to admit it but everybody loves cover songs. File under “Hell, why not”.
Song #15 The band’s most famous song of all-time!!!!! Trite and predictable but often true.
Aside: Somebody went on setlist.fm and switched all these songs played during Sloan’s Twice Remove anniversary tour stop in Loretto, Ontario (?!?) to song titles that involve either cows, cattle or other farm-based themes. We clearly live in a Wiki-world.