Some performers leave audiences energized, while others make you wish you’d left early. As with an album, song order is a crucial part of keeping showgoers entertained throughout a concert. Every road-tested artist has their own way of doing managing that flow for maximum impact, whether that means a slow increase energy or a sustaining mix of danceable and non-danceable songs.
Which artists leave people the most energized, and which are most likely to make them dance? Science has the answer, to an extent.
Joseph Wilk plotted SongKick’s collection of setlists (the lists of songs played by artists at live music concerts), against The Echo Nest’s Energy and Danceability attributes, determining how bands pace their shows, and how badly their songs make people want get down.
Setlist Energy found that the alt-country favorite Wilco tends to start shows on a high note, sag towards the middle, and re-energize the crowd in time for a grand finale:
Meanwhile, Radiohead tends to end their shows on a downer. “This is why I don’t go to Radiohead concerts anymore,” noted Wilk. “For some bizarre reason, as it drops off at the end, everybody walks off with no energy, depressed”:
The low-energy and un-dance-friendly Mogwai, on the other hand, “save their energy for the end — and then a sudden burst to try to absolutely shatter you as the dancing [rating] is going down”:
Out of all of the artists analyzed, Elvis Costello’s concerts demonstrated the biggest upwards leap in energy and danceability at the end of his sets. “He obviously does mediocre performances and then, at the end, pulls out something amazing,” observed Wilk:
A Morrissey setlists revealed overall high energy and low danceability, as one might expect from the former Smiths frontman. However, his songs do get easier to dance to towards the end of his sets:
“The Beastie Boys absolutely destroy your soul towards the middle,” said Wilk, “and then leave you absolutely shattered at the end, and that’s pretty cool”:
Duran Duran, on the other hand, start out with a spark, woo their audience with some slow dance songs, and then increase the energy level before finishing up with more dancing: