Encores are a peculiar tradition at concerts. In tongue and cheek, an artist will say something along the lines of “this our last song, thank you so much Toronto,” and play one of their hits. However as a member of the crowd, we all know that they didn’t play that hit song that everyone has been waiting for. So, we clap, holler, and cheer for their swift arrival. Oftentimes, the artist comes back out with a water bottle, and waves to the audience acknowledging their excitement. Eventually playing that song we’ve anticipated for. Since the age of 7 (shout out to Linkin Park for being my first show), I’ve been to dozens of concerts, and ever since I turned 19, I’ve had the opportunity to go to smaller venues and see a wide variety of artists without the need of adult supervision. This is to say that I’ve seen dozens of encores. And on May 20th 2023, I experienced a first, an encore that was earned.
First off, let me first go over the night that was. Lee’s Palace (529 Bloor St W, Toronto, ON), is easily a top 3 venue for me in the city. From the decal on the fronting of the building, to the high stage, and to the fact that it was where The Clash at Demonhead played their iconic show in the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (The Brie Larson version of Black Sheep is better, I’m sorry Metric). I’d like to give a quick shoutout to Annisa from DEMO Magazine for saving a spot in line for me, especially saving me a spot in the front row to catch the opener.
Been Stellar, a group from NYC, kicked off the night on a high note. Their stage presence made me as though I was transported back in time to the early 2000’s. More specifically to a time when The Strokes and Interpol were still relatively unknown. With punchy drums, infectious guitar riffs, coming-of-age lyrics, and nonchalant vocals (that have the capacity to blow you away), the band is well on their way to becoming the next big indie rock darling out of the big apple. While I could simply recommend checking out their entire self-titled debut EP from 2022, a track that you need to add to your summer playlist is Manhattan Youths. I’m a sucker for a disco drum beat, catchy lyrics, and fuzzy guitar chords, it’s without a doubt a hit.
And then of course, we have the headliner, Shame. The post-punk band from South London jumped right into their set with Fingers of Steel off their 2023 LP Food For Worms. A wise decision as it's a fan fave from the album and has a memorable chorus that’s easily received and vocally reciprocated by the crowd. As with many post-punk bands (e.g. Joy Division), this group dons workplace clothing as if they just finished their 9-to-5 workday at an accounting office. However, their charismatic lead singer, Charlie Steen, puts on a show and is quick to unbutton and remove his shirt to their song six-pack. Ironically, under his button up, it’s worth noting that Charlie doesn’t have a six-pack but I applaud a man that doesn’t shy away from exposing some skin. As expected their set is rowdy, sweaty, and only a little stinky (it appears as though Shame fans know what a shower is)- and I’m enthralled by all of it. You know the mosh pit is pretty good when you double tie your shoelaces and they still come undone. Before playing their debut album hit One Rizla, they tell a charming story about the first time they played Toronto, there were 30 people in the crowd, almost all of which were made up of bassist Josh Finerty’s extended family. Not entirely sure, but I think some of those family members were in the crowd and even made their way into the pit. To end off the set, the band plays Gold Hole, another hit from their 2018 debut LP Songs of Praise. Exhausted, sweaty, and appreciative, Shame gives a few waves to the crowd and head off stage never to be seen again (until the next time they play Toronto of course).
With the lights turned on, the speakers at Lee’s Palace began playing Drake’s God’s Plan, and it seemed like that was it. Generally before going to concerts, I have a habit of peeping at setlists to see what a typical concert is going to be like. When seeing all of Shame’s shows on their North American tour, I noticed that they have yet to do an encore. I assumed they might have taken a page out of PUP’s book and also thought that encores are stupid and a waste of time. But Toronto isn’t your typical city. This is the home of Drake, an underfunded transit system, and disappointing sports teams (I for one am dreading another Blue Jays choke). So even with a couple dozen fans making their way to the exits, the rest of the venue stayed and demanded more. I’m not going lie, I doubted their persistance, and thought, “surely they’ll give up and realize that Shame doesn’t do encores.” And to my disbelief, once the 2018 hit song stopped playing, Shame made their way back to the stage. Perhaps it was God’s plan after all. It appeared that even the band members were shocked, but as the professionals they are, they knew that if a crowd demands an encore, you give them what they ask for. With the encore being improvised, Charlie had to yell and draw the audience back back inside for one more banger. The 5 lads blessed the crowd with the track Angie, a song from their debut album that is rarely played live. By the end of it all, the band gave one final bow and expressed their gratitude to the crowd before heading off to the green room, for good this time.
Never before in all my 23 years have I seen a crowd have to earn an encore. I’ve seen countless scripted encores, artists explicitly describing their hatred for encores and how there won’t be one, artists end a show when they felt like it, and even an artist that had “spies” that infiltrated the crowd to encourage an encore (that certainly wasn’t expected by the event organizers). And to be honest, I think this is how it should be. Scripted encores where the audience gives a half-assed applause because they know an encore is guaranteed to happen, is silly. It is the equivalent of half-assing your science project knowing full well that your dad is just gonna step in to finish it because he loves making baking soda volcanoes. Now of course, planned encores are going to keep occurring for as long as we have live entertainment, and some relatively popular band from England isn’t going to change that. But with all the bizarre etiquette and incidents we now see in post-pandemic concerts, this is something I would root and holler for.