How to write an epic setlist for your rock band

Originally published at: How to write an epic setlist for your rock band | Boing Boing


I don’t even mind this. Any band’s job is to entertain the concert-goers so they leave having had a good time and willing to buy more records. Doesn’t matter if they’re playing Carnegie Hall or the Crystal Room at the Holiday Inn Express in Borger, Texas. Play songs the audience wants to hear, that the band members have rehearsed, in an order that’s engaging for the audience and band. And keeping a database of the songs you’ve played, when, and where is good thinking.


So they keep notes about their performances? Revolutionary.


One of my prized possessions is a setlist from a DJ Lebowitz (punk rock pianist) show in 2002. It has not only the songs, but also his notes, little drawings, it’s wonderful.

When I saw Gary Numan this year I was surprised and pleased that “Cars” got dropped just before the middle, and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric” was saved for the encore. Admittedly both songs I was sure I would hear, but I like the order


I think people are often surprised when they find out that their favorite rock stars are really meticulously detailed people, rather than the carefree slobs they always assumed they’d be. Of course, there are plenty of one-hit wonders who are in fact carefree slobs, but you don’t get to be selling out stadiums 40 years into your music career without caring about the details.


Phish played 13 shows in a row without a single repeated song.

No Rules At The Garden: Phish Wraps First Weekend Of Residency With Potent Mix Of Old & New [Videos].

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You know how musicians are



They weren’t wrong about Mozart. He went with what he could, without regard to whether he should!

(Don’t ask me for my spicy take on Mahler, and why I fucking hate John Williams)

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The Grateful Dead figured out setlists a long, long time ago. Play what you feel. Interrupt Set 2 midway through for a little break.

FTR, this was a ‘new attitude’ for Metallica, who had, like most rock bands, stick to the same pre-planned setlists with a couple variation-slots. But they were challenged and inspired to mix it up a lot 6 years ago by Phish’s 13-night-stand at Madison Square Garden, in which Phish didn’t repeat one song. Here’s their moment of revelation:

Of course, Phish has always created their setlists with very little planning, and they are extremely on-the-fly - not with the computer analysis, printouts, and reminders that Ulrich was relying on. And Metallica has since settled back into their lazy comfort zone of choreographed, ordered, same-songs again. But it was nice for their fans while it lasted.

These days, the the Dead have a guy taking care of it for them…
"set lists are put together by a worried-looking man named Matt Busch, who is one of Weir’s managers and whom Weir extensively trained for this purpose.
The day before each show, Busch sits down in front of three spreadsheets: one a master list of all the songs the band knows, another showing recent set lists, and a third that breaks the songs down by lyrics, musical keys, beats per minute, and other factors. Among the innumerable considerations he then needs to keep in mind: no repeated songs within three shows; songs that belong in specific slots—opener, first set, encores, etc.; lyrics that name-check the city they happen to be in. Each set list takes Busch between four and six hours to put together. " from Bob Weir Profile: The Grateful Dead Guitarist Will Not Rest | GQ


Yeah. But the Grateful Dead, when Jerry was alive, didn’t go for that sort of thing. Which Bobby and Phill said drove them a bit nuts. But Jerry liked the freedom of it. Bobby wanted to do “uptight” things like “rehearse” and that kind of silly stuff.

I believe it works just as much, and likely much more, in the opposite direction.

Fans wish to believe that the artists they love and admire so are controlled by their artistic inspiration, performing “in the moment”, controlled only by the whims of their muse and spurred by the buoyant, electric, live energy coming from them, the audience.

Instead, upon seeing a second performance elsewhere on a tour, they come to realize that each moment and stage movement is planned and choreographed down to the millimeter, (which is, of course, necessary when integrating lights, effects, and the required troupes of dancers, for safety and insurance mandates). However, you do come to see when your rock idols are closer to mechanically “putting on a Broadway musical” than delivering any sort of “personal unique musical message”.

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