Do You Peek at the Set List Before the Show?

Our "Science!!!" project on concert set lists
Our "Science!!!" project on concert set lists Screenshot
My brother and I have tickets to see Thomas Dolby when the ‘80s pop icon hits Houston this July as part of the Totally Tubular Festival at 713 Music Hall. We’re super fans going way back to watching “She Blinded Me With Science” air 40 times an hour on MTV . Dolby’s “Leipzig” is the ringtone that sings “Leipzig is calling you,” whenever my brother phones me.

Though we share a love for this artist and music innovator (he actually ran a company responsible for some of the first ringtones) he also recently sparked a fiery debate between us. I excitedly asked my kid brother if he planned to scan Dolby’s set list before the show, you know, to see if his favorite songs (probably “Hyperactive” and “Europa and the Pirate Twins,” they’re still so rad!) will be heard that night. That’s a thing you can do these days, reader. Google your favorite touring artist and the phrase “set list” and you can probably see the songs that artist performed at last night’s show.

My brother looked at me with disdain and suggested that’s a move straight from the playbook of “Millennials and Zoomers.” He says these young concert-goers have made this egregious offense practically acceptable, something they do routinely “after they buy the ticket with no stub.”

I tried explaining how summoning this vital information ahead of a show is useful to someone who may have to review a show, particularly when one’s not too familiar with the artist’s full catalog. He wasn’t having it.

“You wanna hear what’s gonna be played before you even walk through the turnstile?! I go into the unknown with hope…and disappointment.”

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Lonesome Haunts
Photo by Kris Donaldson, courtesy of Lonesome Haunts
This seemed like a good subject for further discussion, a little research for “Sciiiience!!!” as Dolby would say. I tossed the question to a couple of music fans/musicians with new music you might Google up on a set list soon, Bart Maloney of Houston’s Lonesome Haunts, and Tyler Ryan, singer and guitarist for New Orleans’ Oh Dang.

Maloney’s band released a self-titled full-length at the end of March. It’s a rocker, 11 tracks and nearly an hour’s worth of bangers. Maloney may have been hungry when he fielded our question.

“I am all for checking out set lists before the show. I see it like checking out the menu before I go out to eat at a restaurant. We know all the hits like beef, chicken and pork are going to be there, so I’m curious what else is going to be offered,” he said. “Am I going to be able to get some cool, old deep cuts like cotton candy brûléed cream corn? Or will it be all the songs you expect that are the equivalent of mashed potatoes and asparagus?”

Maloney promises something hearty for listeners of the new album. To play off his metaphor, it’s real nourishing meat and potatoes fare.

“Our new album feels like it was a long time coming. We recorded in Denver Harbor at King Benny’s House of Sound and had our former bass player, Adam Castaneda, mix and master all the songs. The songs are 99 percent true stories of the good and bad I’ve dealt with in the last couple years,” he said. “The band did a perfect job at putting their personal creative touches on them and turning them from rough ideas at rehearsals into actual songs. I tend to love confrontation, but songwriting lets me say things I didn’t get to say and have the final word. This album let me scream and get it all out.”

The last show Maloney attended prior to our chat was a Kate Clover show at Continental Club. He said he did not glance at her set list before the show.

“She was great. She had such a good stage presence, and her band was really tight. She came out on the first song like she was there for a fist fight. I was all about it.”

Lonesome Haunts plays Continental’s sister club, Shoeshine Charley’s Big Top Lounge, on Thursday, May 23. It’ll be their return to mid-Main following the album release show.

“We had an incredible turnout for our album release at The Continental Club. It’s been so cool seeing our fan base grow locally and everywhere else. The new songs were received really well, and I had a lot of people come up and tell me how much they liked different songs. It’s great seeing how different songs hit different people for different reasons.”

So go ahead and take a look at the Haunts’ set list, Maloney said. It won’t hurt his feelings.

“My position doesn’t change when I am the performer versus an audience member. I absolutely love it when someone asks before we play if we will play a certain song or a handful of them. It makes my day because it lets me know people are listening to the music on their own time and not just at the show to get out of the house.”

Tyler Ryan, of alt-country act Oh Dang, said he typically won’t call up a set list before attending a show; however, he recognizes sometimes it’s crucial to the evening’s potential.

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Oh Dang
Photo by Ryn Sowder, courtesy of Oh Dang
“My only experience looking up a specific set list prior to a show happened a few years ago. I was pretty infatuated with a girl who I considered far out of my league and I desperately wanted her to like me. We had been talking for a few days and one night she texted me, ‘Do you listen to Amigo the Devil?’"

Ryan said he did indeed and he was invited to attend the Devil’s show on her extra ticket.

“I quickly began scouring the internet looking for recent Amigo the Devil set lists, because I had in fact never in my life listened to Amigo the Devil,” he admitted. “I found some consistent set lists and began building myself a playlist.

“I realize how sad and lame I sound - and maybe I was! But I'm glad I was. I had an amazing time at that show singing along with everyone in the crowd,” Ryan noted. “Also, through that experience I have become a major Amigo the Devil fan. I think he's an incredible writer and he's been a big influence on me, especially on this last Oh Dang record.”

Like Lonesome Haunts’ recent release, Oh Dang’s new LP was unveiled in March and is also self-titled. Oh Dang’s collection is a series of hushed ruminations, with tender vocal tradeoffs between Ryan and vocalist Harper Browman that are both heartbreaking and life-affirming.

“We're super excited about the new record. Our biggest takeaway from the first EP we put out a couple years ago was to slow down, take our time and make sure we were happy before we released it. That's what we did,” Ryan said. “We spent the past year recording in our living rooms and bedrooms, mixed and mastered it 100 percent ourselves. We have since been signed to Full Tilt, a local record label here in New Orleans, and spent this spring touring around the south in support of it.”

You should really go listen to that album, and Lonesome Haunts’ latest release, too. But do that after you read one more story from Ryan about set lists.

“In the seven years I've lived in New Orleans I have never once bought a ticket to Jazz Fest. That being said, every year I somehow manage to procure a ticket for at least one day. This year was no different and Friday I was given a ticket to the day Foo Fighters played,” he said. “I'm not a huge Foo Fighters fan, I know maybe four or five songs, but I had a blast anyway. I went crazy during ‘Everlong’ and thrashed around scaring all the jazz dads and moms. It was great.

“The experience was so last minute I didn't think to look up any set lists. But recently I went back and looked it up online because they played a few songs I liked but didn't know,” he said.

In the end, Ryan's position is one we usually favor - just do what you wanna do and have fun.

“I, for one, do not find the sanctity of a set list to be particularly precious. I actually get in a lot of trouble with my band for changing our set right before a show or sometimes right in the middle of a set depending on what the vibe is,” he said. “If looking it up before or after heightens your experience, go for it! If you want to go in blind, that's good too. Only you know what's fun for you. The information is there if you want it or not. Just have fun, y'all.”
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Jesse’s been writing for the Houston Press since 2013. His work has appeared elsewhere, notably on the desk of the English teacher of his high school girlfriend, Tish. The teacher recognized Jesse’s writing and gave Tish a failing grade for the essay. Tish and Jesse celebrated their 33rd anniversary as a couple in October.