Vote Super Furry Animals!

 by Martin Belam, 1 February 2008

I noticed last week that my favourite Welsh band, Super Furry Animals, were adding an interactive element into their North American tour. They are visiting the US to promote their most recent album, 'Hey Venus!', and are allowing people to vote for the songs they most want to hear included in the set-list.

Super Furry Animals in Yeti mode

It reminded me of a couple of earlier attempts at doing this kind of interactive set-list.

In 1986 Elvis Costello went out on tour with the 'Spectacular Spinning Songbook'. The centre-piece of the stage set was the eponymous wheel of fortune. Around the wheel were a selection of songs, and fans were invited on-stage to spin the wheel, and the band duly played what turned up.

Elvis and the spinning songbook

David Bowie also attempted to allow an audience vote to pick the track-listing for a tour. In 1990 Bowie was having a middle-age career crisis, having renounced his solo status in favour of forming a band and promising that, from then on, he would simply be a member of 'Tin Machine'.

Of course, part of renouncing being a solo artist was a lucrative Greatest Hits farewell tour, accompanied with the obligatory repackaged greatest hits compilation, and the growing 90s menace of the badly re-mixed single to promote it all. In Bowie's case, it was John Lennon collaboration Fame which suffered the indignity of having a funky drummer beat slapped on it so that it could be re-released in a plethora of formats as "Fame '90".

David Bowie Fame 90

Bowie set up a phoneline for people to vote for their favourite tracks, and the NME, who in those days were treating Bowie as a washed-up anachronism rather than respectfully as a long-standing rock-n-roll hero, started campaigning. They wanted David Bowie to play 1960s novelty single "The Laughing Gnome" as part of the set-list.

I went to the Milton Keynes date on the tour, and the involvement of the public hadn't turned up the inclusion of a single surprise in the set-list whatsoever, which pretty much stuck to a formula of well-known singles plus a couple of extra tracks from the Ziggy Stardust album.

By all accounts, "The Laughing Gnome" did very well in the poll, but since Bowie was taking his retirement very seriously, not so much as a single wise-cracking line of the track passed his lips on the tour. "Here, what's that clicking noise? That's Fred, he's a 'metrognome', haha etc etc..."

I rather suspect that if enough people voted for the Super Furry Animals to play "The Laughing Gnome" in their set-list, they would oblige, but their vote is running a closed nomination system. Visitors to the blog promoting the vote can only vote from a selection of 34 SFA songs.

What I like about it though, is that the vote seems more like an exercise in viral promotion for the tour itself, rather than just the task of picking the set-list. Fans are able to embed the voting widget in their own sites, acting as a great big advert for the gigs.

Good luck to 'em, and, for the record, I pretty much reckon they are still guaranteed to finish with "The Man Don't Give A Fuck".

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