Jack White’s tour has come and gone from Kansas City and so has White’s experiment with a phone-free concert. Don’t expect it to be the first and only.
White performed Tuesday night, April 24, at Providence Medical Center Amphitheater. When he announced the tour in March he also declared it “phone free”: Fans would be required to leave their phones in their cars or lock them away in pouches.
The absence of phones was immediately noticeable, especially as darkness descended and not a single glowing screen was visible among the 6,000 or so fans No one was blocking someone else’s view of the stage with a phone taking blurry video footage.
Groups of fans didn’t stop in their tracks to pose for selfies, clogging aisles or concourses. Nobody fell into a social media hole, ignoring the show to post or read posts on Facebook or Twitter.
The only drawbacks for me: I had to take notes in longhand, with pen and paper for the first time in more than eight years (and my penmanship has since deteriorated significantly); and it took a while to find someone wearing a watch so I could keep track of the time.
Otherwise, there was something refreshing, even nostalgic, about briefly revisiting life before cellphones. Several fans who sent me emails or Facebook posts agreed:
“I liked not having the phones there and how he stepped back and took in the energy of the crowd.”
“The crowd was much more lively!”
“I thought the ‘no cell phone policy’ was great and should be considered by everyone playing live music. It was awesome to look across the crowd and not see one single cell phone raised in the air and especially not one or more raised up in front of me during the show.”
Comedians like Dave Chapelle and Kevin Hart have banned cellphone use recently, mostly to protect their material from being shared on YouTube. Unlike music, jokes aren’t as effective when you’ve already heard them once or twice.
In a Rolling Stone article, White overstated the case for the policy at rock concerts.
"I really react to the crowd, just like a stand-up comedian would. … If I finish a song and go, 'Ta-da!', and it's crickets, I'm like, 'Well, I don't know what to do now.' Am I supposed to play a heavier song, a faster song? Do you want me to play acoustic? Do you want me to leave? I'll leave!' But what I don't like is, 'Is that how they really feel, or are they just not even paying attention because they’re not engaged, because they’re texting.”
I’ve seen Jack White six times, as a solo artist and with his various bands. Not once was there the slightest “crickets” moment at any show.
Each time, he engaged a big crowd, even when slamming the drums at the back of the stage for Dead Weather. And I’d argue that the mood at his Midland theater show in 2014 was consistently livelier than at Tuesday’s show. But that could be attributed to the smaller venue and a set list that included more “hits” and fewer deep cuts.
Also, you can prohibit cellphones but you can’t stop people from talking during songs, and there was a lot of that going on Tuesday night.
Expect more shows like this. Maynard James Keenan (Tool, Pucifer, A Perfect Circle) this week told the New Music Express that he agreed with the policy. He won’t be the last to jump on board.
“The more you’re tapped into that thing in front of you, the less you’re actually tapped into the experience around you,” he said. “I’m a strong believer, supporter, advocate of the aural tradition and there’s got to be better ways. We try to figure out some way, but I think at some point people are just entitled and they just want what they want. They don’t give a (bleep) about the people around them. And so, yeah, we have to go the way of Jack White and start putting (phones) in pouches.”