What’s The Perfect Length For A Gig?

How long should a gig drag on for? It’s something that Finnish fans of Bruce Springsteen had plenty of time to contemplate at his epic four hour, six minute concert in Helsinki last night. To give some sense of scale, the Boss’s gig was approximately the same length as Kenneth Branagh’s 1996 version of Hamlet.

Bruce Springsteen: his gigs are THIS long

At an earlier fixture on the same tour, the organisers of Hard Rock Calling decided enough was enough and pulled the plug on Springsteen and his guest, Sir Paul McCartney. I’m inclined to say they were right – not because of noise restrictions or local residents, but because four hours is too bloody long.

There’s nothing wrong with value for money – but at 33 songs, the gig was equivalent to around three full album’s worth of songs, back-to-back. If you’d been drinking, you’d probably have had to fight through the crowd for toilet-trips and top-ups at least three times. If it had lasted much longer, you’d have to pay council tax on the patch of land you were standing on. It’s a growing trend – I recently saw The Cure play a good three hour show that could have been a great two hour show.


At the other end of the spectrum is Madonna’s 26 July performance at The Olympia, Paris. The singer played just eight tracks, for which some audience members shelled out 280 Euros. That’s 35 Euros per song. Eight songs is, frankly, not worth missing The One Show for.

Through a (not very) complex mathematical formula, I’ve decided that the ideal durations for gigs should increase exponentially, as follows:

A new band – ie a band that people will be checking out on a purely speculative basis – should play for 25 minutes with no encore. This is long enough for the band to get into the groove of their set but short enough for them to only play their very best material. A new band always should remember: they are there to entertain the crowd, not vice versa.

A band with anything up to three albums can play for twice as long: 50 minutes. And, go on, you can have an encore too. A 50-minute set means an act can choose the best of their material plus a few new ones and everyone’s on the last train home.

A band with more than three albums AND a greatest hits comp should play for twice as long again: 100 minutes plus optional encore. There’s enough time to flex their muscles, play a few obscure ones and new ones, drop the hits and leave the crowd both exhilarated and cobweb-free.

Those in general agreement with these recommended daily allowances may be surprised to learn that Springsteen’s performance was a mere tiddler in comparison to Gonzales’s record-breaking 27-hour concert in Paris in 2009. And that’s nothing compared to a performance of John Cage’s ‘ORGAN2/ASLSP’ in Halberstadt, Germany, which began in 2001 and is set to continue for a total of 639 years. Hope it’s a seated gig.

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