The setlist is one of the best parts about live music, as it allows the artist or band to take listeners on a sonic journey they carefully crafted. And while some shows fall victim to repetitive performances and fail to switch things up, other artists use their live show to create an entirely new experience each night. Here are five of the most creative bands when it comes to creating a setlist.
Whether intentional or not, most have heard about Bruce Springsteen’s record-breaking setlist length by now. Not only are his setlists long, but they’re also ever-changing — save for opener “New York City Serenade.” Recently, K-Hits revealed that The Boss often scraps his setlist before a show and rather embraces the creative freedom of winging it. As a result, each performance he delivers is truly unique (compare Chicago to New Jersey as proof) and, as always, memorable.
Dave Matthews Band
Considering the numerous semi-residencies Dave Matthews Band holds at various venues throughout the years — particularly at Alpine Valley — it’s only natural the band has figured out how to ensure each show is fresh and compelling. Their recent string of shows in California provides recent evidence of the band’s skillful setlists, as one night widely differs from another.
Dead and Company
Freeform jams often find their way into these shows, as they should, and in turn the setlists need to be as equally free flowing to allow for such spontaneity. In terms of switching things up, the band doesn’t simply rearrange the setlist; they completely overhaul it each night. In fact, at the band’s two most recent back-to-back shows only two tracks — “Drums” and “Space” — were repeated.
Not only does Pearl Jam mix up the setlist with songs of their own, they also toss in several covers from artists across the board in terms of genre — from The Ramones to The Chambers Brothers, among more. Such thought results in the delivery of a diverse setlist each night, as they cater to the wants of their audience by blending in several fan favorites alongside newer material and inventive takes on other classics.
Radiohead’s recent return highlighted a predicament veteran acts with new music often face — balancing a setlist between old and new. The band’s solution, so far, appears to focus less on what album each song comes from but rather the overall sound and flow of the setlist as a whole. While Lollapalooza, for example, saw a more mellow set, they dropped more up-tempo tracks into their show at Outside Lands just one week later. But, let’s not forget that Osheaga attendees were treated to closing song “Creep” — making that particular setlist a tough one to beat.