What, if anything, do our favorite bands owe us? When we make room in our iPods for a new album, on our shelves for a coveted record, or in our brains for an insanely catchy chorus, should we expect a payout from those responsible for the music? If we’re the ones shelling out hard-earned cash for new records and tickets to shows, is it such a bad thing to expect something, some sort of special payback or prize for being a “real fan”?
That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about during the past few weeks. Earlier this month, I made the trip to Summer Sonic, an annual music festival held in Tokyo and Osaka. (Think the Reading and Leeds of Japan, only on a smaller scale.) I’d likely have gone regardless of the headlining band, but this year, the draw for me was something special: Muse.
I’ve mentioned my love for Muse pretty frequently on MEB, and though I know I sound like a broken record, they’re absolutely my favorite band live. I consider them pretty incomparable, and just like I’d expected, their set was damn near perfect, peppered with songs from the golden age of Absolution and Origin of Symmetry. The highlight was absolutely “Yes Please”, a song that hasn’t been played in its entirety in, literally, years. If it ever makes an appearance, it’s only the main riff played as an outro to another song. That’s where the trouble began.
Then, a few days later, the Devon trio played a special show at Tokyo Zepp, a tiny club with a capacity of only a few hundred. (If I could, I’d have gone…alas, that pesky thing called “work” got in the way.) The Zepp setlist made Summer Sonic look like an absolute joke. It was full of lost gems, songs that hadn’t seen the light of day in years, let alone been played with any regularity. There was “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You”, which hadn’t been played since Seoul in 2010. And “Fury”, a B-side whose massive popularity with fans is directly inverse to how often it’s played. And “Futurism”, which hasn’t been played live since 2000. And so on, for 16 songs.
And then all hell broke loose. See, once non-Japanese fans got wind of that setlist, they weren’t happy. “Livid with the fiery rage of a thousand burning suns” sounds more accurate, actually. My Twitter feed was chock full of fans from all over the globe lamenting in a mixture of fury, jealousy, and disbelief. “Betrayal” was even a word tossed around. (One thing I fully admit about the Muse fan base…we can be an emotional bunch.)
All this over a setlist.
The vast majority of those with pitchforks and torches were European fans, who couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that Tokyo had been treated to a setlist better than anything they’d seen in years. Most vehement and outspoken were the Brits. Why should Japan, they raged, get all of the good songs? Shouldn’t it be Britain, Muse’s home, that gets those kinds of setlists? (Somehow many of them seemed to forget seeing Origin of Symmetry in full a few years ago at Reading and Leeds…) It was like they were taking Tokyo’s setlist as a personal middle finger directed at everyone who wasn’t in that club.
This isn’t something that only Muse are guilty of. Asia – Japan and Korea particularly – has often gotten the “special setlist treatment” from bands. I know I’m a bit biased, seeing as I live somewhere where rarities are often trotted out. That being said, that’s not the only reason I’m going to those shows. They’re not the reason I’m going in the first place. I don’t think that I’m “owed” anything particular because of the location of a show…and I don’t think anyone else should either.
I recognize that, at the heart of it, bands depend on their fans. If nobody buys their records and nobody fills the pit at shows, that spells out death for any band. And there are certain things that we are owed when we go to shows: a decent length setlist, good sound and production, an on-time start, and an encore or two. But the idea that bands should “save” their best moments, their rarest songs, or their wildest stage setups for a particular place or group of fans – under the behest or control of those very fans themselves – is pretty ridiculous.
First off, there’s the issue of supply and demand. So many rarities are sought after because they’re just that – rare. That’s where their appeal comes from. Play the same song, no matter how old, at every show, and it’s bound to lose its shine over time. Pretty soon you’ll have fans complaining that a band is attempting to relive their golden days. Predictability would become an issue. Put it this way: if television writers only wrote what the fans wanted to see, there’d be no suspense. There’d be no sense of surprise. Sometimes what we think we want isn’t what actually works best.
Then there are those songs that are strains on the band members themselves, whether it be the singer’s vocal cords or the bassist’s carpals. Some songs, feasibly, just can’t be played perfectly five nights a week on a four-month tour. Quality would start to slip.
And finally, in regards to the location lament…I’m siding with the bands on this one. We’re big kids. Throwing a tantrum on Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube just because you didn’t get to see your favorite song (which was a B-side on an album released in 1992) isn’t the action of a “real fan”. I totally get the appeal of a “homecoming” or hometown show; you can’t help but expect something extra special. You are, after all, the group of fans that likely propelled your favorite band to a bigger popularity base.
But at the same time, the idea that you’re somehow owed something that other fans/locations aren’t is frankly pretty entitled, whether you’re from a band’s hometown or some far-flung locale like Tokyo, Melbourne, or Rio de Janeiro. If you’re going to demand a certain setlist, you might as well cobble together your own from live albums and pro-shots. Otherwise, you’re just setting yourself up disappointment.