Graham: Jack White concert will be phone-free

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Jack White wants your attention.

When the Detroit rocker kicks off his tour at a sold-out Little Caesars Arena on Thursday, just a stone’s throw from where he started his career with the White Stripes, he will do so in front of a crowd of fans unlike any other modern concert audiences.

Jack White is the first arena act to ban the use of cell phones at concerts.

That’s because their eyes will be on the stage, not their phones.

Fans attending White’s tour will have their phones and smart watches secured inside locked pouches that will not allow them to be accessed during the show. That means fans won’t be able to take photos, shoot video, check for social media updates or Facetime a friend during the concert. Instead, they’ll be forced to watch the show, live, with their own eyes and undivided attention.

What a concept.

White’s team is calling it a “phone-free, 100-percent human experience.” “We think you’ll enjoy looking up from your gadgets for a little while and experience music and our shared love of it IN PERSON,” a note from Third Man Records reads. Those wanting to post pictures from the show to their Instagram account can download shots from White’s website after the show.

Comedians such as Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock have shut down the use of phones at their shows, in order to keep their material from leaking on the internet, and Prince did it when he played the Fox Theatre in 2015. But White is the first arena act to ban the use of phones, which have become as commonplace at concerts as spilled beer or screaming fans.

He’s doing it in order to preserve the integrity of the live experience, or what’s left of it. Anyone who’s attended a concert in the last decade can testify that modern concert audiences are a sea of glowing screens. There’s the guy next to you who’s Snapchatting the entire show, complete with goofy filters, and then there’s the mom in the row in front of you who’s filming the entire concert, even though you know she’s never going to watch that footage again.

Trying to capture a moment in order to post or relive it later makes sense, because it is a part of our modern experience. It’s the same reason you take a shot of your food at a restaurant. We live, we share. But at what cost? Anytime you’re shooting or filming, your attention is on the screen, not on the action in front of you. And artists would rather perform for people than screens.

White, who would turn the clock back to the 1920s if he could — this is a guy who put out a two-volume, 12-record set commemorating the history of Paramount Records from 1917-1930 — has had an anti-cell phone stance for years. For the current tour he’s tag teamed with Yondr, the San Francisco-based tech company that makes pouches that lock your phones and can only be opened in designated Yondr Phone Zones, located in the venue’s concourse. So if you absolutely need to check Facebook or text your babysitter, you can run out and do so. Otherwise, it will be a strictly old-school atmosphere inside the concert.

Whether this return to the past is the future of concerts depends on the artist. Performers who are active on social media, like Drake or Taylor Swift, want fans to post as many pictures and videos from a concert as they can. It’s how they stay relevant in a digital landscape where mentions are currency. Artists like White, who put a value on the intimacy and purity of the live experience, would rather those fans live in the moment, social media be damned. It’s a matter of preference, and in today’s world, there’s room for both.

As with anything, moderation is the key. White’s bold stance takes a hard line on those who spend entire concerts with a phone in front of their face, but cuts out the casual fan who likes to pop off a shot for posterity’s sake. Both types of fans will have an opportunity to make some new memories at the show. They’ll just leave with them in their head, not on their phone.

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