“No band should play for more than 20 minutes.” Discuss.

How many times have you gone to a gig to see a specific band only to realize that there are three opening acts? The music might start at 9 pm, but by the time you get to the headliner, you’ve had to endure hours of music you didn’t care about.

I’m all for giving up-and-coming bands exposure–this is essential to the musical ecosystem–but we don’t need hour-long sets from these groups. A nice, tight six-song set of their best material would serve everyone (including the acts themselves) far better.

There’s a real argument to be made for a 20-minute cap on sets. This is from The Concourse.

Imagine: you’re in a crowded mid-size venue, 300 strangers surrounding you. Just an hour ago, this space was vacant; now you’re practically cuddling with some drunk dudes you’re praying won’t spill beer on your shirt. They don’t smell great. It’s Friday night and you’ve headed straight from work to happy hour to here, the clerb, to see your favorite up-and-coming and/or once-popular, now-on-a-slow-decline artist of your choosing. There are four opening acts. And then it hits you—it’s 9 p.m., no one has taken the stage yet, you’re kinda tired, a little bit tipsy and certainly not looking forward to elongating your neck and holding it at a 30-degree angle for hours. Dear lord, you’re going to die in this place.

Why? Because each one of those four motherfucking openers is going to play for, like, 30 minutes—if they’re friends with the sound guy, they’ll find a way to stretch it to a cool 45—and the headliner you paid real American dollars to see (or whatever currency, this is an international issue) is gonna get their hour because you and the 299 randos around you damn well paid for it. Setting up between bands takes anywhere 20 to 30 minutes, so by doing some basic math, carry the 5—you are going to die in this place, dude. Nice knowing you.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

4 thoughts on ““No band should play for more than 20 minutes.” Discuss.

  • April 2, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    Assume you mean cap opening acts at 20 minutes? Maybe a better option is to cap the number of acts for an evening show. Although it all depends on the main act, some acts play 90 minute sets – not a second longer.

    I saw Iron Maiden 15 years ago with openers Dio and Motorhead. Iron Maiden did a tight 90 minute set, leaving ample time for 2 established openers do their thing.

    Last year I saw 3 Doors Down – they played 90 minutes with no opener.

    Then there’s bands like Pearl Jam that would easily play 2.5-3 hours, with or without an opening act.

    Some main acts like to take their friends on tour because they enjoy seeing them play and they want to introduce them to their own fans.
    Then you have supporting acts decided by labels that don’t fit with the main act at all.
    You can usually tell if the opener has been chosen by the main act or by the label.

    A blanket cap doesn’t really fit for every event.

  • April 2, 2018 at 12:39 pm

    Admittedly, I responded before reading the article. After reading the linked article I still don’t agree with the author.
    If you don’t want to see someone play for more than 20 minutes, then don’t go.
    If you don’t want to squeeze in with other people, don’t go to small club shows.
    If all you want is the “hits” are you really interested in the band enough to go to a show? Stay home and stream your precious “hits” on your phone.

  • April 2, 2018 at 6:10 pm

    It can be annoying, but I think the problem is having too many opening acts. I have a friend who books shows at a local club, and usually there are two opening acts before the headliner, but sometimes three. Usually the openers do about 30 minutes, with the headline act doing 45 to 60 minutes, and the longer set is usually at the request of the audience for an encore. I think that’s a fair set up. I think two openers is plenty.

  • April 2, 2018 at 9:47 pm

    In this day and age, it’s generally pretty easy to look up the set times of when bands are playing before a show. Then if someone doesn’t like too many or a particular opening act they can skip it.

    As I would be dead set against capping opening acts to 20 minutes as I still occasionally go see a show specifically for the opening act, sometimes leaving after they play before the headlining act starts to play.


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