I’ve never really appreciated the beauty of a good set list.
A good set at a concert should move the listener from one mood to another, building energy and sitting back, creating a journey.
This part I knew. It seems straightforward, like putting an album together.
What I hadn’t counted on was being part of a band where everyone keeps switching instruments. The guitarist plays acoustic and electric instruments. One guy plays hand drums, acoustic guitar, mandolin, or keyboard, depending on the song. I usually play bass and sing backup vocals, but sometimes I play keyboards, and on a few songs I put my bass down just to sing. And sometimes we guitar and bass players have to re-tune, since we don’t have roadies offstage who can hand us fresh instruments in alternate tunings.
These changes wreak havoc on a set list. The musical journey is completely unimportant next to the need to have some semblance of continuity between songs. The most nerve-wracking part of gigs isn’t playing; it’s filling the space while people are switching guitars, re-tuning strings, or struggling into a djembe harness. Coming up with banter isn’t impossible. Coming up with something even remotely engaging to say, however, is pretty damn difficult. Songwriting, I can handle. Scripting stage patter, even loosely planning it? I’m at a loss. I never had to chat with my audience when I was performing classical piano.
So we’re working on coming up with the perfect set list, one that minimizes these pesky changes between songs but still creates a set worth listening to.