Monday, April 20, 2009

One last setlist rule

I discussed the science of setlists before but failed to mention one special instance: Festivals.

I saw half of the Flaming Lips set yesterday, and I've been to enough festivals to have seen some very good and very bad sets. In the course of the half-dozen songs I saw, Flaming Lips hit some highs and some lows. So here's a quick rundown:

* Intros are a mixed bag. Now at this point in their career the Flaming Lips are a lifestyle brand that occasionally put out albums so they get a pass, but if you are a band that records 3 minute rock and roll songs, ditch the intro music and just play your set.

* Setup time is key. Let's say one one song all the band members play stand-up basses and accordions simultaneously. This is probably an awesome tangent in a longer set, but if it take you 30 minutes to get mic levels on these, then stick to the more straightforward stuff.

* Make your banter sparkling. Imagine a half-assed between-song joke bombing in front of 500 people, then imagine it bombing in front of 20,000 people. You can lose people with the banter, so only bring the "A" game.

* Momentum is really really key. The Lips fucked this up on a monumental scale. They started amazing. I mean, "Race for the Prize" and "Lightning Strikes the Postman"? That's a great start right there. Then they played a very very slow version of "Fight Test" and a very slow starting off-the-wall cover of "Borderline" and then a very very slow version of "Yoshimi." Notice a trend? In a 10 song set, why would you play 3 slow songs in a row. The poor teenagers who were dancing on the sides of the stage looked really really unfortunate trying to dance to these songs.

* If you wrote a song as awesome as "Kim's Watermelon Gun," then you should play it. Obviously.


B.Graham said...

My designer and I were talking about this (momentum) issue just today. And how it's SO IMPORTANT. What's the point of paying to go and just stand and listen to slow music you can't dance (or even just bob your head) to? I can do that in my living room.

Scotty said...

Now what Einstein tell us? Velocity is relative to your frame of reference. Were you on the proper drugs, then the speed of those songs would have been just right.

Damo said...

Scotty, your comment sounds tongue-in-cheek but it's also pretty on point. Not that I'd know.