Written by Parisa Eshrati
Play It By Ear is an ongoing series by T&E writer Parisa where she shares musical discoveries along with informational tidbits, casual musings, and whatever other related knowledge she can pull from her rotten quarantined brain. In this special themed edition, she shares live music memories via her small (but cherished) setlist collection.
The band finishes their encore. The lights go on. The strategy is in place.
You visually map out a way to push through the people leaving the crowd to find your way up front. You squeeze your way up to the barricade, standing there with the ten or fifteen other people left waiting. A few moments pass, and the roadies comes out. You wait patiently for them to start clearing the stage, because you’ve been around long enough that trying to obnoxiously yell for their attention is not going to work in your favor.
And then, the moment you’ve been waiting for...the roadie is ready to hand out the most prized possession for any show-goer, the ultimate token of a concert experience, the supreme music nerd souvenir...THE SET LIST!
For most, there’s probably no rhyme or reason to it; for me, trying to snag a setlist has become an essential part of the show-going experience. It almost feels like a skill. Through trial and error, you learn the ways to become one of the lucky people to get handed a setlist after the show (I’ve found it’s all about making eye contact and being assertive, but not pushy). It’s sort of a ritual in its own right.
Obviously, live music is all about the experience and community, and not about any material object or show-offy prize. There's just something, though, about having a tangible artifact to preserve the music you love. For many, it's a vinyl collection, a drawer full of concert tees, or a wall plastered in band posters, but for me, it's the setlist. It’s the ultimate show-goers ephemera. It's a single sheet of paper, framed in tape, rips, folds and stains, that can instantly bring back specific memories that you may have otherwise forgotten. This seemingly bare-bones set of words can make you recall the specifics of a tour, how deeply the band delved into their discography, how the songs transitioned into one another, and so much other information that a shitty cell phone picture could never capture.
So as I sit here, now having not seen a show in well over a year, I’m looking back on some of the setlists in my collection and reminiscing about all these incredible experiences (and also wondering where all my other setlists have gone...? Damn.) It’s bittersweet knowing that we’ve all missed out on so much music this past year, but feeling hopeful that things will return in a not-so-distant future. So here’s to being able to see shows and reconnect with each other again soon.
If you have a setlist collection, please join me in the conversation by e-mailing me some photos at parisa[at]trialanderrorcollective.com or through the contact form here. I’ll be posting a reader submission blog with all your setlists, and feel free to share any info or memories about the show as well.