The Sacred Scroll of Live Music: The Almighty Set List

Evil Beaver set lists Live FixIt’s time to revisit the power of the Little Things and see what I found written on the epidermis of a musician who wanted to create a different kind of set list.

One of the most coveted items in live concert culture is the set list.

Serve the Song blog also agrees that picking a good set of songs is crucial.  So it’s no surprise that artists take time before the show to choose a set of songs that will create the right mood and make the show flow and feel just the way an artist wants it to.

For fans, set lists are treated like sacred scrolls because they chronicle the essence of the concert: the music we’ve come to hear.

Set lists are also the key to making each show unique. And, more importantly, they’re a written record of how the artist’s pre-show selections and fan’s hopes synced up during the concert.

Another reason fans love set lists is because they let us feel with our fingers and see with our eyes what we are able to usually only feel in our and ears during the concerts.  So when we get our hands or eyes on a set list (before or after the show), it makes our emotions tangible in a way and gives us a one-of-a-kind view into that concert.

We’ve all seen fans reach across the barrier and grab the set list off the monitor.  One reason fans do this because it makes us feel like we have deeper connection with the music and the band. And even in some cases, set lists help fans keep tabs on a bands just in case they break the rules and give fans a free live bootleg that doesn’t have all the songs on it.

Now, so far, I’ve just talked about “ink and paper” set lists, so it gives me great pleasure to present the next installment of the Little Things and share with you a different type of set list — one that’s made of ink and human skin.

From One Arm To the Other

As I mentioned, I saw Polysics last week, but before they took the stage, L.A. rock duo Evil Beaver primed the night by ripping their way through a raucous and snarling set of punk, metal and hard rock.

Evil BeaverSqueezing growls, squeals and sneers from a bass guitar and working magic with her foot pedals Chicago-native Evie Evil mashed melody with virtuosity making her axe sound like three guitars instead of one — while drummer Johnny Beaver thumped out a river of bashing and clashing rhythms and beats.

A few songs into the set, my eyes bugged out with delight as I noticed that Evil had the set list scrawled on her forearms in black marker.

Then midway through Evil brought attention to her set list and raised her arms in the air and exclaimed “…okay, I’m done with one arm, now it’s on to the other!”

I thought her forearmed set list was a pretty bad-ass and creative way to write down the set songs and bring a bit of humor to a concert performance.  So afterward I grabbed a close-up shot of her forearms and I asked her a few questions.

First, she told me writing out the set list on her arms served as a creative release and that she did it that way because she’s misplaced paper set lists before.

Sure, writing out the set list on her forearms was a more secure way to go better way to go — just as long she doesn’t work up a sweat and go to wipe her forehead with her forearm. But Evil was in complete control the whole time, and no marker smears or set list smudges who spotted during her set.

Let’s wrap this post up by connecting Evil’s story to Bon Iver’s Little Things.

When I asked where she got the idea to write the set list on her forearms — which she did all by herself by the way — she told me that she was inspired because, by doing so, it felt like she was giving herself a temporary tattoo for the night.

When she told me that I thought it was pretty interesting way to look at set lists. And then I wondered if there were any fans in attendance who made their own set list tattoo and wrote songs on their arms as Evil played her set.

This Evil set list story still has my mind going in so many different directions.  And it amazes me that tattoos, once again, have found their way into the conversation on Live Fix. I guess live music and tattoos are more closely related than I realized.

What do you love about set lists?

Have you heard of other creative ways of making a set list?

Do you use sites like set list.com to keep track of the songs from your favorite concerts?

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  • http://101gigs.wordpress.com/ Natalie

    As a performer, I love set lists, but there is something magical about a performer who listens to the crowd and energy and is able to change it up. If the masses want a specific song, why not indulge them? They did after all drive, pay for tix, attend your concert.

  • http://101gigs.wordpress.com Natalie

    As a performer, I love set lists, but there is something magical about a performer who listens to the crowd and energy and is able to change it up. If the masses want a specific song, why not indulge them? They did after all drive, pay for tix, attend your concert.

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  • http://twitter.com/nickedelstein Nick Edelstein

    Agreed, Natalie. My band always rags on me for waiting until the last possible moment to provide our set list – and then changing it mid-show. I’ve even stooped so low as to say “here’s our list for set 1, you’ll get set 2 after the break.” The fact is that intimate venues require much more flexibility than giant arenas. When you’re playing to a few hundred people vs. a few thousand, you need to listen all-the-more-closely to their reactions during songs. Maybe they want more up-tempo material. Maybe they want to rock. Maybe the set you envisioned prior to driving into their small town that afternoon isn’t the set they came to hear. Just be careful of requests. Don’t turn yourself into a bar band (unless you are). Taking requests can actually have a strong impact on the audience’s perception of you, your band, your original music, and the amount they’re willing to spend at your merch table. It’s not blatantly obvious, but it’s definitely there.