Here are some questions I’ve been asking myself lately about performing a song twice in a set…
What if we started looking at song repetition as a tool for adding depth, connection, and cohesiveness to a live set?
We already do this in individual songs by repeating choruses and hooks. Some screenwriters call this a “Controlling Idea.” — It’s the main topic, main idea, main thought.
What if we looked at a setlist like a movie and the songs like scenes?
When I write setlists for a tour, a question I try to answer is, “What’s the controlling idea of this set? Sure, we’re taking listeners on a journey, but what’s the overall central theme/emotion/vibe we want to convey?”
Is that theme communicated the most in one of the songs we’ll be performing?
If so, what if we play that song multiple times in the set?
HELL NO! THE CARDINAL SIN! UNTHINKABLE!
But why? Like… specifically… why don’t we do that?
We think it would bore the audience. But maybe that’s just if we’re lazy and copy-paste. Could you play just part of the song? What if you threw just the chorus at the end of another song? New key. New vibe.
Stand-up comedians do this. It’s called a “call-back.” They don’t repeat the same joke verbatim. They allude to it. They reference it. Everything that came after, now adds context.
“Hey, remember earlier tonight when we were all back there together?”
Like Michael Corleone returning home from Sicily. Like Frodo returning to the Shire. Like Neo going back into the Matrix.
The goal of a journey isn’t to avoid returning.
Go back to where you came from!
Just make sure that when you do, you’re not the same as when you left.
Anyhow, this thought is still unfinished. What’s your gut reaction to it? I patiently await your reply.
P.S. I think this may be part of a larger thought about our fear of repetition as artists. Don’t use the same line in multiple songs. Don’t post the same photo twice on Instagram. Maybe I’m just curious… Are ideas all supposed to be single-use only?
P.P.S. This is a hell of a time to be writing about setlists, no? I miss it all too. Soon. Not never. For now, we just breathe and keep a weather eye out for the curious.
For The Curious…
Rob Morgan is an internationally touring bassist and music director who keeps a weather eye out for the curious. He can be found online at www.therobmorgan.com