Play Us One We Know

Simon Tucker’s worried about the future of live music. To see why read on.

After attending the first of Radioheads’ recent two night stint at the O2, I left in a sea of delirium and happiness at one of the best sets I have ever seen (and I have seen many sets) by the band. The set was a snarling, rolling, electronic beast and the band played with more confidence, humour, and stage presence than I had ever witnessed before.

The next day, I checked online to see what my fellow ‘head fans thought of the show and what I read really left me disappointed.

People were complaining the set was “difficult”, there were not enough songs from The Bends, and to my utter dismay a few people even complained that “they didn’t play Creep”.

I really was left scratching my head at these comments and it got me to wondering about what artists are expected to deliver to the public every time they take to the stage.

Is a modern, forward thinking, STILL WORKING, band expected to just get on stage, sing the ‘hits’, thank the crowd and go home counting the lucre?

This trend amongst fans seems to be getting stronger over the last 10-12 years. Complaints about the Arctic Monkeys opening their Glastonbury headline set with a cover version and the set leaning heavily on Humbug (the album they were then promoting) were everywhere in the music press and on forums. The same can be said about Gorillaz and their headline slot on the same stage. People complained it was too heavy on the new material, that the band didn’t pull out enough hits, and that they didn’t know who was on stage singing at any given time. Damon himself said that he should have introduced each guest performer on stage when they came on (although I HOPE this was said with tongue firmly in cheek). Glastonbury is meant to be one of the most forward thinking festivals in the world, famed for pushing boundaries, and the crowd are meant to be true music fans??? Now excuse me, but if you are a true music fan surely you don’t need Lou Reed, Mark E Smith, Shaun Ryder, Snoop Dogg etc to be introduced?

Of course there can be cases of this type of audience behaviour found throughout live music’s history. The famous Dylan “Judas” gig is an obvious case in point, but it really does seem more prevalent lately.

Is the cause of this the download era? People downloading single tracks instead of albums? Music being used more as background and not something to submerse oneself in? Are people not as obsessed by an artists’ entire catalogue and development anymore or do they just prefer to like a few songs by said artist and leave it at that?

If so, the future of gigging by current / future bands is in danger of becoming very stale indeed.

Ask yourself this, if The Beatles had not stopped touring, and you went to see them in ’67 would you have preferred to hear them air tracks like ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ or ‘A Day In The Life’ or would you have been upset that they hadn’t played ‘She Loves You’ or ‘Love Me Do’?

Artists like Bowie, P.I.L, The Velvet Underground etc constantly reinvented their stage show to match where they were as artists and what they were currently in to. They would maybe play a handful of hits (sometimes none at all), then draw heavily from the project they were then promoting.

Live music is the only art form that people seem keen to just repeat and rehash. If a film director / actor / painter repeats the same thing over and over they get rightly knocked by the critics and public alike (unless you’re an Adam Sandler fan of course and if you are there’s no hope for you anyway).

Live music is becoming the aural equivalent of fast food. Quick, easy, makes you feel good for a bit, and then you’re hungry again an hour later with a mass sense of disappointment in yourself.

We can’t let this happen! We must rejoice in hearing rare B-Sides, works-in-progress, fluffed notes, as this is the only way the band you love can grow and develop and who knows, that work-in-progress you heard and complained about might end up being your favourite track of the next album.

So if you go see your favourite band soon and they don’t play many tracks you loved from their 1990s ‘golden’ period, be careful because soon they may finish their set by asking….

“You want fries with that?”

All words by Simon Tucker.

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Raised by music obsessive parents on a diet of Ska, Bowie, Queen… and the Bay City Rollers. Discovered dance music and heavy metal at the same time making for a strange brew of taste. I do this for the love of an art form which welcomes all types and speaks to us all. Find me on twitter @simontucker1979.


  1. It really depends on the band I’m watching. If they’re a band I’m really into then the last thing I want to hear is ‘the hits’ because I’ve probably heard them hundreds of times. But then it can be disappointing to see a band and not hear the songs you know and love. To be honest though, if they’re good then I’m going to enjoy whatever set they play.

    • Many thanks for the comment. Really agree with your final point about if a bands good enough then you enjoy any set they play. This was what frustrated me most about the comments regarding the aforementioned gigs. Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, Gorillaz etc are great live acts so you should just go with what they play. I’m not condoning poor or lazy performances (Radiohead at last years Glastonbury was terrible but that was not due to track choices. It was due to poor sound and the band simply not match fit when it came to performing the material), I’m just debating what we as consumers should expect when we buy the ticket. Thanks again for the comment

  2. Part of the problem, I think, may be the influence of the nostalgia market, growing year-on-year like a big fat boil on the face of music.

    Nostalgia shows – and I’m not slagging them per se as one weekend this summer I enjoyed both the Stone Roses and The Psychedelic Furs banging out the soundtracks of my teenage years (both fine museums, but I have no need for return visits) – have to deliver up the hits; that’s what people have come for. And they’re tempting people out to shows (I’m deliberately calling them shows, not gigs) who stopped going to gigs in the sense of watching a raw band with 40 other people in a basement many years ago.

    Thing is these people often do like the odd more contemporary band too, and may go and see them – with the same expectation. Because that’s how a gig or show is for them. Herein lies the problem: ‘The Stone Roses played “Made Of Stone”, the Psychedelic Furs played “Pretty in Pink”, so why didn’t Radiohead play Creep?’ Now Radiohead are not stupid and they know their audience. They know they have enough fans who are (a) so obsessive they could perform a collection of fart noises on the trombone and they’d still lap it up, and (b) open-minded when it comes to new and/or unfamiliar music or sounds, that they can play what they like. Other middle-aged bands may have a different fanbase and may not be so lucky; the hits are expected so you either trot them out of say goodbye to that income stream.

    Friends in a band and I once discussed what they would call their compilation album should they ever get big enough and have a long enough career to make one. I suggested they should do one with all the hits on and call it “For C**ts” alongside a companion album with what they considered their best songs from albums, singles, B-sides, demos plus new unreleased stuff, and call it “Not For C**ts”.

    But what do I know, I just spend five days at a festival (reported elsewhere on this site) where of the 41 different bands/artists I saw there were just five I had seen before, another seven I’d heard of but never seen, and 29 I hasn’t… which I reckon’s about right.

    • I completely agree with your festival comment. I went to ATP curated by Pavement and it was only them and the Fall I’d heard off and I had not seen a single band on the line up live. It was one of the best festival experiences of my life. In regards to the rest of your point, I feel that there is a distinct feeling by a lot of the general public that a bands ‘owes’ them something. The feeling of ‘I made them famous by buying their records’ etc is one I find hard to fathom. I’m of the opinion that a band owes the consumer nothing. You either buy it or you don’t. Simple. Also, I agree there is room for nostalgic acts (Stone Roses a great point. Purely because they were robbed, deserve to see some money for the influence they have, and because of the shambolic way they ended) but there are too many of them these days. That was my point about the ‘still working’ artists. If you want just ‘the hits’, go see the Stones….. After you’ve remortgaged your house first of course. Thanks for the comment

  3. I remember Buzzcocks going out a few years ago and really pissing people off by only playing their latest album and none of the stuff that made them famous. Mixing the old with the new is definitely the best way. Saw the Cramps at The Royal Court, Liverpool in 1986 play most of Date With Elvis before heading into hit territory, and the Manics played their Lifeblood album before the hits came out. Both gigs were hard work at first as no one knew the songs they were being presented with.
    The flip side of the coin is that it’s sad to see so many shite tribute bands getting gigs and more punters than honest original bands. These karaoke wannabe wankers should be condemned to the holiday camps where they belong, not taking up slots at venues where proper bands need to be playing. (httpss://

    • Neil, I was at same Cramps gig – not sure I would go as far as “hard work” but I know what you are getting at…still recall that as being one of the best gigs I ever saw at the Royal Court.

  4. I remember at Reading ’95 The Smashing Pumpkins headlined and played loads of stuff off Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness. No problem there except the album wasn’t actually released until October so it bored a hell of a lot of people (well the ones I spoke to anyway). Showcasing a new album to your fans is fine but I think at a major festival you have to get the balance right and on that night Billy Vorgan and co got it very wrong.

  5. Anyone who pays a fortune to see Radiohead and moan that they dont play “Creep” havent done their homework. If a band reforms for a one off tour and has no new material then you dont expect any new material. If a band is a going concern you shouldnt expect any old material as that would be a confession that they dont think the new stuff is up to scratch. If a band is into their old stuff, then fair enough, play some old classics – but personally I’d rather see a band perform new stuff they were into than play the same stuff every night forever.

    • Murray: I completely agree. The thing that baffled me the most was they DID play hits (Idioteque, There There, EIIRP, Karma Police etc), it was just they did not do any from ‘The Bends era back. I must admit to feeling that Karma Police was the weakest track on the night. I was more excited hearing Seperator, Kid A, The Gloaming, Lotus Flower etc than I would have been if they had done Fake Plastic Trees etc.

      Thanks for the comment

  6. Radiohead fans do generally come in two distinct types; those who liked the first few albums and those who have persevered with the band through the later albums. I agree with Murray though, those still paying large amount of money to see Radiohead these days would be optimistic to hear a setlist largely based on the first few albums.

    In general more people in my experience pay a lot of money to see certain well known acts but often go expecting to hear their own favourite songs and as you say go away dissatisfied if they are not played. I’d suggest that people’s musical tastes are now narrower than previously meaning that the bigger bands can comfortably sell out the larger venues while smaller and often better bands are almost neglected. As as a result while live music appear to be booming it may only be the larger acts driving this trend.

    Festivals in general see bands condensing their songs into a short setlist that it usually aimed at generating a large party atmosphere. However the emphasis of each festival is different. Accordingly I would contest your statement that Glastonbury is one of the more forward thinking festivals. I would say it lost this halo quite a number of years ago and the likes of ATP have skipped past in with ease. I would say many people go to Glastonbury these days almost to conform and to see the bigger names. I would also suggest that many of these would not even consider attending something like the Green Man or End of the Road festival as they are smaller and usually showpiece smaller acts who are often far more interesting than the bands making it to Glastonbury.


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