Fixed Setlists

So since moving to Brissie, I’ve started to see bands who are more popular than I’d usually go see because I’ve got a sweet deal where I get free tickets and think why not. Bands like Fleetwood Mac and AC/DC, that sort of just-for-the-nostalgia thing.

Thing is, I have to review a lot of these, and often they’re artists I’m kinda familiar with (as in I thought I knew them a lot better than I did before I really started looking at their back catalogue properly) and turned to to try and narrow it down a bit when I started to notice a trend.

All bands who seem to not give a shit anymore play fixed setlists. Like properly fixed to the extent that you can look years prior and a one-song deviation is actually a big deal because they really don’t play that song very often. Easiest possible option.

I have to say I was quite surprised.

Even Deftones who I’m off to see soon seem to have two setlists now, which I’m assuming are “gig that matters” and “gig that doesn’t matter”. They’re going to open with Rocket Skates. I know this. I will turn up and they will open with Rocket Skates. They will then play Geometric Headdress. If they don’t play Bored, I will know they think Brisbane is a shithole. They won’t play Bored.

Isn’t this weird? It feels weird to me. I appreciate that some bands have session musicians who may not know the back catalogue as well, or some of the back catalogue will be too rusty to remember, but I’d have still thought you’d like go for “Let’s learn 30” and then mix it up on the night.

This probably isn’t even a new thing, just something that’s been brought to my attention through circumstance and the sorts of bands I’m seeing in Brisvegas.

Anyway, my question is: Is it fair to say that any band who plays to a fixed setlist is a bunch of cunts?


Calling Super Furry Animals out for this:

^ all four are pretty-much identical.

I guess I can see a point if you’re relying on programming / electronics etc, but half of the fun of seeing a band live is not knowing whether they’re going to play your favourite song. (Though I’d stop well short of calling Gruff Rhys a cunt, as he’s one of my favourite people).


Probs got lighting/sound shit specific to each song, so it makes the tech people’s jobs easier if it’s fixed (this is a complete guess)

i can understand playing a fixed setlist for a particular tour or part of a tour if you think the songs work well/are paced well in that order, and particularly if it’s something very technical or electronic where a lot of the songs bleed together or what have you. always prefer a bit of variation personally though, especially a long running band with a big back catalogue. i’ve never noticed the same setlist going back years, that’s pretty ridiculous if so.

that’s something i’ve always liked about The Radio Heads. says they’ve played 54 different songs this year.

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Electronics and light shows make sense, AC/DC as an example above pretty much have no choice with the majority of their stage show, but Deftones surprised me and made me wonder if there were others in that area too, and that maybe a lot of bands see it as a convenient excuse to just get on with it.

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Agreed with this. For a tour it’s fine, for multiple tours less so.

I liked what Explosions In The Sky did for their recent one, where they had two different setlists and alternated between them for each date. Still a bit gutted I didn’t see them play Greet Death though! Hadn’t ever thought about what Aggpass said in terms of tech stuff, wouldn’t surprise me if this is why.

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I try to avoid looking at before going to see a band i really like as i don’t want to spoil any surprises. if they’re the sort of band to mix things up i might glance at one or two sets just to see. otherwise i try to only check if i want to get more familiar with a band’s stuff before seeing them (either for review purposes or just general greater enjoyment) or if i’m trying to decide whether it’s worth seeing them or not.


That bit of the Instrument Fugazi doco always stuck with me when they said they never have setlists and just go into whatever song feels natural. I know that’s an extremity and even in that situation there’ll always be natural cues between them all as to what transitions better, but fundamentally it struck me as something that a band who fucking loved what they did would do.

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Even worse than fixed setlists are the people who just use the same stage banter night after night. Seeing someone who does that several times, even across several tours, is just tedious.


Eddie Argos has been making the same off-the-cuff jokes during Emily Kane & Modern Art for a decade now

That’s also a lot about what sort of sound they had. Shellac are the same, they have no real setlist and just sort of pick songs although it’s clear they understand there are ‘hits’. But both those bands have really simple sounds with very little to change between songs or anything like that.

I remember my old band used to make up a different set list every gig and then we saw Popular Workshop a bunch of times (who are still a fave of mine) and realised they played the same set …and that we didn’t care at all, it made a great gig. We tried that and found that it made our live shows way better because we could actually rehearse the whole set and get very tight about playing songs either into each other or with little gaps, and it made it easier for us to enjoy ourselves on stage.

So I think, as well as the jobs all the crew have being easier when they know which guitars are coming out when, which lights etc. it’s easier for the band to enjoy themselves. I’d guess on top of that, there’s now a greater pressure to do a REALLY good show because we all pay a lot more for live, so there may be a sense there of recognising there’s a theatre bit here and you know, people go back to watch a musical X times over because they love it.

Same set for years is odd, though, even if you’re Fleetwood Mac and it’s likely everyone’s just come to hear the hits.


Multiple great points I hadn’t really considered there, good work.


If it’s specific to a particular song then that kind of makes sense, but if it’s like a bit-of-standup that’s the same fucking bit-of-standup each time, then no excuses.

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For the bands you mentioned in your original post (Fleetwood Mac and AC/DC) it makes perfect sense.

They’re playing huge venues to huge numbers, all of whom will have paid a huge amount to see them. Playing “the hits” is the best way to guarantee that as many people as possible go home happy.

Yep, there are some huge acts who manage to go deep while still charging a huge amount to play huge venues (Springsteen, Radiohead, Neil Young) - but acts like this will always be the exception.

It’s certainly “interesting”, but I don’t think it’s “a thing”.

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Think it was Gruff who referred to SFA as being a ‘slow moving beast’ in relation to setlist changes in a interview recently (may have been the DiS interview but I can’t find it)

Agreed though, looking back at some of the setlists they did years ago, they do seem to have stuck to a core of songs since they have come back. They will never surpass this gig for me personally.

That’s an incredible setlist.

Even if their sets don’t change much from night to night, there seems to be a bit of fluidity to them.

For example, at Liverpool Psych Fest last month, the bass appeared to cut out. So while their bassist and a few technicians attempted to fix things, the rest of the band first improvised a couple of songs (about Earth and Mars) before playing a couple of low key songs… and once the bass was restored, they instantly launched into a sprightly number with a bright, driving bassline…

I’ve still not been able to place the low key songs and the sprightly bass song, and I consider myself to be a “superfan”! I can only conclude that they must be deep, deep, deep cuts. And that they were able to launch into them at a moments notice suggests that they’re not as lazy as the repeated sets suggest.

have a read the Guardian interview with Gruff today, he mentions the bass amp issue in it.

Superfan and you can’t name all the material they played ! I think you need to relinquish that title :slight_smile:

I haven’t shown my face in public since my fall from grace

Went to see Shellac a couple of nights ago and it was a small venue, so you could hear them talking between songs and you could hear them discussing what to play next.

They are about as tight as a band can get, incredible live.

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Of course!

One gig someone asked about them having a setlist and they said they just have a master list of all the songs on the stage with them.

Another time (maybe same gig) people were yelling for tracks and they claimed they deliberately wouldn’t play those ones.