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.
However! There is a simple solution to this problem, one that would make the world immeasurably better all at once: No band, rapper, artist, or musician of any kind should perform for more than 20 minutes. If you are a band, rapper, artist or musician of any kind, please limit your set to 20 minutes.
When I first proposed 20-minute sets on Twitter, I was met with... let’s call it endearingly averse feedback, much of it from musicians themselves. One of the most popular critiques compared a desire for short sets to a distaste for books (“all books should have no more than 30 pages” and “no books, but pamphlets”) which signifies either a really concerning devaluation of books, or that some guitar-slinging dickhole thinks his extended rendition of “Smoke on the Water” holds the same kind of cultural clout as reading a real-ass novel. Either way, what? A much more logical argument, the only logical rebuttal, is: “Well, if I pay money for entertainment, I expect to be entertained.”
And listen, buddy, I agree! If you pay good money for a gig, you should be entertained! That makes sense, it’s the foundation of capitalism, the economic and political system in which we engage. But don’t you want your $15 or a couple hundos to go to a quality experience? The Ramones famously performed killer 20-minute sets, leaving their audience wanting more. (Sadly, when they became successful, set times essentially tripled. Honestly, is anyone excited to hear a goddamn Ramones non-single? No one is.)
With 20-minute sets, you get to enjoy music without risking exhaustion. Every performance will either leave you wanting more—if it’s a quality performance—or will be a momentary torture, leaving you just enough time to grab a beer or visit the merch stand whilst ignoring whatever avant-garbage is happening. Some music is bad, some music is good, and a 20-minute set will weed ‘em out.
Here’s the best part: Twenty-minute sets would mean the end of jam bands as we know them. Sorry stoner pals, but Phish is trash, the Grateful Dead is just a t-shirt design at Target these days, and no one has ever heard a String Cheese Incident song—I’ll take that last one to my grave. It might also mean the end of some doom-y metal bands (Sleep is sleepy, it’s right in the name) or, my long-haired friends, a perfect two-song set. That sounds like a Dream.
I will allow exceptions to the 20-minute rule, but they will be few and very far between. I’m not going to tell Bruce Springsteen to wrap it up after the first half of Nebraska’s A-Side, nor will I tell Beyoncé, “that’s enough, B.” Anyone who headlines a stadium is probably exempt—if only because the cost of seeing one of those damn gigs does not equate to 20 minutes, unless it’s the best 20 minutes of my goddamn life. But there are also very few artists who can rock a stadium, and it’s mostly limited to legacy acts, Taylor Swift and Drake. If you’re shelling out hundreds to thousands to see those fools, you’re on another level.
In conclusion: Give me short sets or give me death.