The Alibis

The science of the setlist

With a big gig almost upon us it’s time to ask ourselves what the setlist is going to be.  Now, your first thought might be ‘simple: write them all down, do them in that order’.  You know, I wish it was that easy…

Maybe I overthink it, but I feel the set list is key in making sure the punters (you) have a great night.  The enviable position we are in now is that we have some pretty big hitters to choose from, song-wise.  But, an embarrassment of riches is still a hard thing to manage (ask Roberto Mancini).

So, how do we get around it?  First of all, we choose who is actually going to make the list in the first place.  We have our favourites and the ones that seem to be your favourites.  We have new songs, we have cornerstones of the set and we maybe even have older ones that need a dusting down and a reintroduction.  We also have time constraints.  We’d love to play for over an hour for you guys, doing the whole lot – but not many opportunities arise for us to do that.

Once there’s the general shortlist, I tend to start with what I call ‘the bookends’: opener and closer.  These are key for me: start strong to hook people in, but leave yourself enough to carry on from the launchpad.  Then, choose a closer to make sure you finish even stronger and leave the crowd wanting more, singing along and buzzing as much as we are.  Most of the disagreements come from which songs serve these roles best.  We can all usually agree on which ones are best bookend candidates, but then it’s about what goes first and what goes last.  The hours we’ve spent on that  choice alone over the years…

After the bookends, you need to put meat on the bones.  This part of the set certainly isn’t filler – it’s about gaining and maintaining momentum and even dropping it at times to give the audience (and us) a breather.  This part is also tough.  You don’t want to lessen one song’s impact by putting it next to another one similar in feeling.  Then again, you don’t want to have too jarring a transition if you’ve got the crowd in a certain groove or mood.  Starting to see the difficulty here?

Anyway, that’s how it starts for me – we all do something similar (I think, I don’t believe any of us have resorted to ‘names in a hat’).  Once have our lists, we have the band pow-wow: The Alibis are a democracy after all.

The lists are discussed at great length (seriously, setlist discussions have been known to go on longer than a UN meeting).  They are usually pretty similar, but the differences are then chewed over and argued over for far longer than is probably necessary.  Proper pigheaded stubbornness on the part of Gareth and myself are common during these discussions.  Both of us fight to the bitter end, unswerving in our opinions (opinions are like arseholes: there are 4 in The Alibis ;o) )

Jan’s input is similar to that of a man deciding with his wife what colour to paint the living room: he forms an opinion when asked for one, argues defiantly in its defence, then realises he really doesn’t care.

Amy gives an air that she really doesn’t mind and it isn’t worth stressing about (and she might have a point).  But, this lends more weight to the suggestions she does make.  Most of these are physical considerations (can you imagine pounding out the drums for Terlingua, Somebody Somewhere and Cut Free all in a row?  It takes its toll…).  But I have my suspicions she likes to throw in the occasional Amy-spanner in there, just because she can ;o)  As I said during rehearsal one night (and I realise I am paraphrasing from underrated rom-com My Big Fat Greek Wedding here) ‘there are a few who consider themselves to be the head of The Alibis – but Amy is the neck and can turn the head any way she chooses’.  She’s a woman, it’s a genetic thing.  It’s true cos it’s science.

This carries on ad nauseum  until we reach a decent compromise.  But, when all is said and done, we go in confident it’s gonna shake yer boots.

Most of all, we try and make sure the songs we play for you are simply the best songs we have in our arsenal, even though they may not be our most well known.  Introducing new songs at the expense of older material that is guaranteed a good reception is always a tough call.   But, sometimes old has to make way for new.  And it’s not as if those songs are never heard of again.  You’ll find that out when you come to Studio 24 on March 3.

Anyway, catch you in a bit, I’m gonna start sketching up the first draft…





  1. Gareth Gareth Fitzgerald says:

    Pig-headed stubborness is probably too light a term! We argue like a married couple and then agree that I am right…

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