I find it greatly amusing when people bring their children to rock shows. Not babies or toddlers mind you, which is just awkward, but 8 to 12 year olds; kids old enough to have intelligent thoughts and vocalize their natural curiosity at the often strange behavior that people are allowed to get away with at a concert.
It's great when they ask questions because it's hilarious to watch parents try to rationalize behavior that they forgot was ever awkward to begin with. There is one question in particular that they struggle with the most: why did the band pretend to leave only to come back out and play more songs?
It's a fair question and one without a good answer, because let's face it: The encore is pretty stupid.
Kids ask about the encore because they're the only ones surprised by it anymore. If you're a music lover who regularly goes to shows, an encore isn't special, and no rarer than a roadie shining a flashlight at the soundman to let them know the show can begin.
What's weird about the situation is that people accept the encore even though it doesn't make any sense.
Consider the two types of encores:
1. The band finishes the last song of their main set, thanks the audience for being great, tells them they look forward to seeing them again, and then yells out a goodnight. They all run off stage, presumably to have a drink and a smoke, then let the audience sit in the dark for a few minutes before "triumphantly" returning to the stage to play a few more songs.
2. The lead singer acknowledges that the next song is the last song but is not in fact the last song, usually with a dumb joke about how everything is going to play out. The band plays their last song and gives their goodbyes. They then all run off stage, presumably to have a drink and a smoke, then let the audience sit in the dark for a few minutes before returning to the stage with a "we all knew this was about to happen" look on their face.
No matter which way the night goes, the band and the audience are participating in a bit of theater. The band knows they're not really ending the show. The fans know the show isn't really over. Yet the band leaves and crowd cheers, getting progressively louder until the band returns to a thunderous applause.
It's the opposite of authentic.
We're supposed to hate manufactured bands with manufactured fan bases playing manufactured songs, but we're supposed to be ok with manufactured hero worship?
It's understood that a concert is a piece of performance art. Bands rehearse, stages are designed, and lighting is configured. A lot of people work really hard to make something that should run like a well-oiled machine seem off the cuff and spontaneous. The encore reveals a bit too much of that, stopping the music to remind us that what we're seeing isn't spontaneous, it's just trying really hard to seem that way.
And the real downside is that encores, by being the thing that are and everyone knows, do more to hurt spontaneity than to promote it. When was the last time you were at a show where a real, honest-to-god encore took place?