Local Current Blog

Who has the best stage banter?

Photo by Nate Ryan/MPR

As most showgoers know, a good concert goes way beyond hearing note-perfect renditions of our favorite songs. I’ve always been curious what goes through a performer’s head as they put on a show, and how much time is actually put into all of those non-musical things like dance moves, energy, and between-song banter.

The stage banter part of the equation is especially intriguing to me; some people nail it, while others seem to give it little to no thought. But how do artists handle those awkward silences between songs? What happens if someone breaks a string and there’s suddenly a long pause in the action? And what effect can something as simple as telling a joke have on the audience?

These are just a few of the questions I’ll be discussing this Sunday night on the Current Presents, when I take a close-up look at stage presence and mid-performance pleasantries. I’ll talk to Brenden Green of the Goondas about his wild stage show, Channy Leaneagh of Poliça about her growing confidence on stage, and a roundtable of funny folks—Holly Hansen of Zoo Animal, Jeremy Ylvisaker of Alpha Consumer and the Cloak Ox, and Dave King of the Bad Plus and Happy Apple—about their thoughts on stage banter.

All of this has gotten me thinking about things on a larger scale, too, so I’m curious to know: Who are your favorite live performers? Who are the best storytellers, joke tellers, and entertainers? And what do you think they can bring to a concert experience?

Share your picks in the comments—and bonus points if you have audio or YouTube clips to back up your selection. And I hope you’ll tune in Sunday night at 10 p.m. (after Wits) to hear the latest installment of the Current Presents.


  • JP

    Locally, Holly Hansen. Jokes, and a clever humility just make it so inviting. For national touring acts, Dave Matthews has a surprising amount of levity and breadth to his stories. HE chalks it up a lot to his “lack of tuning prowess,” but it often led to some great stories that fans of his just ate up.

  • Pat Dougherty

    On the national level I’ve always enjoyed Jeff Tweedy’s dry delivery of banter.

  • Leah Garaas

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — locally, Micah Mackert’s banter/stage presence is like no other. Whether or not the dialogue is first person that he reads in that book of his, the delivery is, captivating?

    I’m biased, but Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock opens every show with “How’s everybody doing?” which is homey and inviting, but then the show can go in any which way direction — from cutting his hair to mocking an audience member to going on a tangent about a band shirt he sees in the crowd. He’s unpredictable and I like that.

  • Paula

    Beck! He’s hilarious and tells great stories. The most recent I’ve heard was at the Newport Folk Festival (NPR should have video archive somewhere).

    Around 2:20 he talks about Song Reader http://www.bigozine2.com/TRKS9/BCKnewport/BCKnewport106.mp3

    Or this one about busking and his protest songs of the 90s at 3:30 (this is after playing Waiting on a Train with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot) http://www.bigozine2.com/TRKS9/BCKnewport/BCKnewport113.mp3

  • Blish Baarson

    I’d say on the national level, I enjoy the banter of both Kiermann Jaakobsen and The Green S. Locally, though, no one can top The One-Armed Men (they even compete with national-level acts).

  • Janelle Doyle
  • C H

    Jeff Tweedy! An example: from the AmericanaramA show in July, when he forgot some lyrics, after the song, he went about scolding somebody in the crowd for holding up a baby that was way too cute. Also, watch http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rITBLyY9BH0 as he banters about being about to sing some Black Eyed Peas. “I think they are evil geniuses”

    Also, Craig Finn’s is often pretty much the same, but his stories are still pretty good.

  • lanky

    Bob Pollard – there’s a whole album of his banter… http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Relaxation_of_the_Asshole

  • juanita

    Robyn Hitchcock is wonderful onstage, famous for his surreal stories. Jacquie Fuller can confirm. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tae_VgQUBkc

  • Andrew Diemand

    Dave King has the best stage banter. It’s like stand-up! The dude is hilarious

  • Patrick

    John Darnielle of the Mountain Goats….Voluminous, eloquent, banter with a highly caffeinated sort of quality to it.


  • Karl Anderson

    No discussion of stage banter would be complete without referring to the wonderful bootleg collection of Paul Stanley stage banter, “People, Let Me Get This Off My Chest.”

  • Keith Raney

    For stage banter and entertainment value it’s tough to beat the antics of Rowan Mcdeid, Kris Olson, and Tom Benson from local bar band 3 Beer Warmup. The show never stops!

  • KTN

    Les Claypool of Primus is a pretty funny guy on stage. Richard Thompson is awfully pithy too. Locally, I think Dessa is pretty observant.

  • Jaanus Lee Damsgard

    The other night, I was defending the local music scene “If you don’t like it, get an instrument and DO something.” But if we are now reviewing the stage banter, maybe there is a problem.

  • Ricky

    You have to mention Father John Misty. He kept the audience engaged and humbled all night at first ave.