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It’s hot as hell and you’re smashed in between a hundred sweaty and half-drunk fans in front of the stage at a concert you’ve been fantasizing about attending since you were a tween. The lights are flashing, the music is loud and the band you’re watching is one of your favorites of all time — say, a group you grew up listening to that served as the soundtrack to those moments of heartbreak, joy and celebration in your life.
You're ridiculously stoked to be there, and you want to remember it forever.
The band plunges into one of your favorite songs so you pull your phone out to capture the moment – because why wouldn’t you? You paid the increasingly-steep ticket price to get into a major concert. You’re even gonna buy a T-shirt. The video is for that little something extra you can post to your social media feeds as bragging rights.
But as soon as your phone goes up to start recording, the band's singer looks directly at you and tells you to stop. Depending on the band, they might even berate you for it.
That's not unlike what happened at the recent A Perfect Circle show at Freeman Coliseum. Two songs in, singer Maynard James Keenan, in-between verses, started chiding folks in the crowd who wanted their 21st Century memento of the performance. He delivered a familiar rant about experiencing music in real life and not through your phone. "Put your phones down," he told the crowd. "We’re right in front of you."
Of course we know you’re in front of us. And in the worn-out keep-it-in-your-pocket debate, it's usually folks like Keenan who toss out brilliant little bread crumbs of advice like this whenever you say you just want a keepsake of a show you've been dying to attend: Just live in the moment, man.
Aren't we able to live in the moment and document said moment at the same time? Our phones have certainly made that easier. It's not as if we stop singing along to our favorite songs as soon as we hit the record button. While it may have been more noticeable having your view of the stage obstructed by rectangle pieces of glass and plastic in the late aughts today it's not really noticeable. And if concerts are a collective experience, that's only been amplified by how much of our lives we now share on social media.
Perhaps guys like Keenan should focus less on how we live our lives, and more on making sure that collective experience is an entertaining, sharable one.
Artists like Keenan who sneer at cell-phone wielding fans certainly aren't alone. Pop stars like Beyonce and Adele have also been vocal about making sure phones are away and that we're "experiencing the performance."
Wesley Shultz, frontman of indie-pop group The Lumineers, told NPR last year that one of their biggest concerns about people recording their shows was a fear that music from a new album they were working on would get leaked — ironically, exactly the kind of thing die-hard live for. For Shultz, fear of a cell phone-captured sneak peek of a new song (one the band feels confident enough playing live in front of people who are paying them to perform, mind you) was so great the band even decided to work with a company called Yondr to come up with a device that would lock your phone up and keep you from using it in any designated "phone free" concert zone, as if fans nowadays need some sort of audio-visual chastity belt.
"If you can set it up so that people can't get to their phones as easily or are deterred, people actually really welcome that," Schultz said. "It's just such a strong force of habit in our lives right now."
There is of course reason to worry that we've become too dependent on our smart phones. But the argument raised by musicians like Keenan isn't about technology addiction. These are famous, well-paid musicians who feel emboldened to tell us not only how to enjoy something, but how we should remember it. In an era where our basic rights are being tested on just about every other front, art and performance and music should foster liberating experiences.
Which means I'll do whatever the hell I want with my phone, thank you.