Discussion: Play the New Stuff, or Stick to the Hits?

Shania Twain Rock This Country TourShania Twain is returning to the road for the first time in more than a decade, and she’s calling it her farewell tour.

Well, technically, she’s calling it the Rock This Country tour, but it’s being marketed as both her return to and retirement from the road.

I should be all over this.  She’s one of my favorite all-time artists, and I loved her tour in support of Up!, which I still consider her best album.

But even though I enjoyed her Vegas television special last month, and even though any set list would be stacked with songs that I love, I’m honestly not that interested in seeing the show.

This is for a simple reason:  She’s not touring in support of new material.

I think I’m in the minority on this one, but I don’t like it when an artist only plays their hits from the past.   There’s something sterile about it, as if artistic vitality has been left in the rear view mirror and the artist is just attempting to recreate a time that has already passed.

Longtime readers know that I’m a big Madonna fan, and I’ll probably see her new tour at least two or three times.   If her previous tours are any indication, I’ll be surrounded by some concertgoers that are very irritated that they spent all this money to watch her perform songs they’ve never heard, even if at least half the set list is classic hits.   I’ll tune them out and focus on what I came to see: all those amazing new songs from Rebel Heart that only get one shot at being performed on a tour.

This is true of all the country acts I follow, too.   Sure, it’s not a Pam Tillis show without “Maybe it Was Memphis,” or a Todd Snider show without “Beer Run.”  But if they did only the old stuff without new material mixed in, it would feel like a repeat of something I’ve already seen done better.   Snider’s got a great song called “Age Like Wine,” and he captures this dilemma perfectly:

“My new stuff is nothing like my old stuff was, and neither one is much when compared to the show…which will not be as good as some other one you saw.”

I’m not the guy he’s singing about, but I’m sure at his last show that I attended, those words rang true with audience members who didn’t understand why Songs for the Daily Planet wasn’t performed in its entirety.

So Madonna gets my money instead of Shania Twain this year, because I’d rather hear “Devil Pray” and “Joan of Arc” for the first time, instead of hearing “That Don’t Impress Me Much” done the same way I heard her do it twelve years ago.

Where do you fit in on this?  Do you want to hear the new stuff live, or would you rather just hear the hits?

14 Comments

  1. For me it comes down to whether it’s your first time seeing that person live.

    I’m going to see Garth later this week after being too young to see him back in his prime, so I want to hear the classics more than what’s on the new album. On the other hand, I’ve seen Gary Allan three times and it was nice having some new songs to mix in with the old stuff so it wasn’t the same show.

  2. Before reading this, I would have immediately responded with, “Just play the hits!” However, I see your point. I think fans who are die hard and see their favorite artists multiple times appreciate hearing a lot of new material. More casual fans who are simply looking for a night of entertainment, however, would probably enjoy hearing only the hits which, for many artists, are better than whatever new material they’ve been working on anyway. I think a max of 3 or 4 unfamiliar songs is appropriate. I like hearing covers and different versions of an artist’s well-known hits too… as long as it’s not one of their iconic signature songs. I’ve already got my tickets for the Rebel Heart tour. When I see Madonna, I know I need to be quite familiar with her latest release because the tour will lean heavily on that material. However, with a discography as massive as hers, I wouldn’t mind her doing a “Just the Hits” tour someday. After all, there are plenty of songs in her catalog that she has never performed live (or it’s been a long time) and it would be fun to hear them dusted off.

  3. I’m envious that you’ll get to see Garth!

    I absolutely agree with you about wanting to hear a mix of old and new songs at concerts. While I expect and even want to hear my favorite artist sing their best hits, I always feel like I’m waiting for them to play something new and hoping that they’ll even try out a new song that they haven’t done live before on the audience that I’m in. I also don’t need to hear the same stories and jokes about the greatest hits in a concert either. Everyone knows that I love Vince Gill, but I’ve seen him do a concert of his greatest hits twice now and I probably won’t see him again unless it’s for a bluegrass related concert, because while his concert was great, I know the stories and have heard those arrangements of the songs already and I’ll actually find myself getting bored hearing them again.

  4. I think it has to do at least in part with how they mix the hits with the newer material. If you’re a casual fan, then of course you’d want more of The Hits than you would the newer stuff. If, on the other hand, you are a real fan of the artist, you would want a show where they get you acquainted with what they had wrought as of late.

    This was true for me back in 1995, when I saw Linda Ronstadt for the first time ever, and she did a fair amount from her then-new release Feels Like Home, and its immediate predecessor (1993’s Winter Light, before proceeding on to a lot of the songs she had been known for throughout her career. None of it was incongruous, since it largely fit in with what her fans knew her best for (mixing country, rock, pop, and folk).

  5. Shania just playing the hits makes sense if she is indeed making this her final tour. It’s more a celebration of everything/greatest hits and a thank you to the fans from what I gather.

    I can appreciate acts performing new material that are past their prime but I would prefer 75/25 percent split with a focus on the older material.

    The real question here is where are these amazing songs from Rebel Heart?

  6. I prefer a balance of both. I’m finally seeing Suzy Boguss for the first time in about four weeks and while I’m kind of looking forward to hear her sing from Lucky I’m really looking forward to hearing the hits. As for Lee Ann Womack, who I’m seeing for the first time in late June, I’m very excited to hear songs both new and old.

    I am not a fan of shows that tip the balance towards new music, thus leaving out familiar songs I love. Especially for an act like the Eagles. Are you paying hundreds of dollars to hear new songs or old hits? I did find some footage of Dixie Chicks’ Canadian tour from 2013 and they really evolved “You Were Mine.” Natalie gave it so much more than she did on the studio recording. That would’ve been such a treat to see in person. Eric Church said today he’s pulling out deep album cuts and leaving out singles on his Outsiders tour. It’s an interesting idea.

    BTW, the Shania Twain special was AWFUL. She was stiff and hardly gave it her all. The motorcycle entrance, while appropriate for the song, was rediculous. The best part were the ballads sung with the horse on stage, but it didn’t make up for the rest of the show. Honestly, it was laughable. The Shania Twain from the late 90s she was not. I was very disappointed.

  7. I personally don’t know how someone like George Strait would decide between his gazillion hits to perform at a show. It has to be hard for an established artist to wrestle with the desire to share new music with songs that made their career.

    For me, if they’re a good singer, I really don’t care what they sing. I just want to be entertained. However, there are some artists who have a limited number of well-known songs where I believe they owe it to the audience to always sing those songs. And if they have a signature song, it should always be included.

  8. I just want a good show – if the new stuff is inferior, then I’d rather they did their hits. If the new stuff is good then I’m okay with newer material being mixed into the shop. If I had to pick between all new and all hits, I’d go for all hits.

  9. I don’t mind it if an artist chooses to perform 3 or 4 new songs along with their hits, especially if it’s an artist I’ve seen a few times like Suzy Bogguss – about a dozen times. With Suzy new songs are not a problem because you don’t have to guess what words she’s singing. She never throws away a lyric. I hate it when an artist leaves you with no clue what the words are.

    Best concert I ever saw was John Denver at Madison Square Garden in November of 1976. Although Linda Ronstadt had long been a favorite of mine, I didn’t get to see her until June of 2006 when she was 60. She was still great.

  10. Shania needs to head to the pop scene and tour with Taylor Swift.

    As for the concerts question, I have only ever seen a Martina McBride concert. She showcased music videos for her biggest hits. I guess if I went to a Josh Turner tour, I would like to see a mixture between singles and album cuts. He has a lot of good material buried on his albums. “Whatcha Reckon”, “Loretta Lynn’s Lincoln”, “Pallbearer”, and “The Longer the Waiting (The Sweeter the Kiss)” are some prime slabs of beef.

  11. I really like hearing new songs along with the all the hits when I see an artist live. If you’re gonna record new music, be proud of it and play it!

  12. Yeah, I don’t get why it has to be one or the other. A mix is great. I think it also depends on how much an artist has toured. Madonna tours a lot, so her only doing hits would mean she performed the same songs for over a decade now. Boring. But Shania hasn’t toured much, so a lot of people wouldn’t have seen her hits recently. Plus, she doesn’t have a ton of new material, does she?

  13. After hearing Madonna’s tone deaf mess of a performance of “Joan of Arc” on Ellen, I don’t know why anyone would pay to hear it live.

  14. I hate to be That Guy, but after almost a decade of barely attending any concerts at all because of my stupid health, the idea of complaining about the ratio of hits to new stuff in a concert just seems awfully privileged to me. I don’t know if I’ll actually go, but I have tickets to go with a friend to see Shania Twain in August. I’ve never seen her in concert, and to be honest I don’t care what she plays. (I’m hopeful to hear “No One Needs to Know”, which was the first song of hers I remember hearing, on the Twister soundtrack, but if she doesn’t play it, so be it.)

    In fairness, though, and to try to mitigate making anyone feel attacked, back when I was healthy and went to a dozen shows or so each year, I recall giving the matter some thought. I saw Brooks & Dunn four years running, each year in a different city. My favorite of the four shows was 2001 in Nashville, the second show on their inaugural Neon Circus & Wild West Show tour. Part of it is that that was my first time seeing them in concert, and that tour was a whole lot of fun. But part of it also is that there were some album cuts from Steers & Stripes mixed into the show, and it was exciting to hear those. I loved that album. Still do, really.

    Would I have not gone to see B&D had I known they weren’t going to play anything from that album? Not a chance; they were on my To-See list, and by God, I wanted to see ’em! What kept me going back three consecutive years? The lineup changed each time. There were acts I wanted to see (Dwight Yoakam in 2002, Brad Paisley in 2003 – although he was scratched and Darryl Worley subbed during that show). Plus, I just outright loved that tour’s very concept. It was the most fun tour I’ve ever caught.

    Would I go see a Ronnie Dunn or Kix Brooks solo show, or a Brooks & Dunn reunion show? I can’t say. At this point, even with the reassurance of ticket insurance (one of the greatest advents in the entire music industry, I say!), my entertainment budget is still pretty limited. I am, though, trying to get back to going to shows here and there. I hate that I’ve seen just a few concerts since being diagnosed a decade ago.

    At this point, I’m trying to focus primarily on artists and groups I’ve never seen at all. It wouldn’t make any appreciable difference to me if I knew that a given artist or group was playing a different group of songs today than when I last saw them. If I ever complete my dwindling list of shows to see, maybe then I’ll start looking more into what the others are up to these days.

    Incidentally, my remaining To-See list:

    Rosanne Cash
    Melody Gardot
    Vince Gill
    Jewel
    Norah Jones
    Ronnie Milsap
    Katy Perry
    Kenny Rogers
    Taylor Swift
    Those Darlins
    Randy Travis (I know, I know; but he’s staying on the list anyway!)
    Shania Twain

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