Private Viewing: Has the time come to switch off our phones at live events?
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Camera phones are destroying live music. Arts editor Andrew Clarke believes that the time has come to put down that phone
I was at a concert recently, sitting towards the rear of the auditorium, and was amazed at the sea of illuminated screens broadcasting miniaturised images of the stage back towards me. After idly speculating that this composite, collage-style image must represent how a fly, with its multiple lenses, must see the world, I became increasingly annoyed.
I felt the same irritation a couple of weeks later when the experience was repeated at another show. Over the years I have noticed a few people holding camera phones up to capture a few choice moments but recently it seems that half the audience arrives at a gig with the sole intention of watching this live event second hand – through the screen of their mobile phone.
Some, I notice, go one stage further and spend the gig with their arms aloft – not in joyous celebration of the music being played but they are clutching a large tablet in their hands and are busily trying to acquire best quality footage of their favourite band which they will then upload onto YouTube.
Why can’t they just enjoy the live experience? Just allow themselves to be swept up in the moment? There is nothing like being surrounded by like-minded souls enjoying the opportunity to see your favourite musicians playing live. One of my all-time great concert experiences was seeing Queen live at Wembley Stadium on the Kind of Magic tour in 1986.
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Positioned half way back on the pitch close to the mixing desk I remember going bonkers when Freddie Mercury started singing In The Lap of the Gods, an obscure album track from the 1974 Sheer Heart Attack album. The experience of seeing Queen live was all about being lost in the moment, of singing along and being part of something larger than yourself.
This wouldn’t happen if you are isolating yourself behind a camera phone or tablet. By standing there with a phone in front of your face you are putting a barrier between yourself and the act you have come to see.
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You are not watching the band on stage. You are not getting caught up in the moment. You’re not jumping around, moving with the music. You are standing there watching this live event second hand through a small video screen, trying to keep the image stable so you can relive this event third-hand on a computer screen at a later date.
Now, at this point, I have to admit to feeling a little hypocritical because I am one of those people who loves to visit YouTube to track down rare live outings of some of my favourite songs from favoured bands but the rise in digital technology means that the need for visual bootlegs is rapidly becoming redundant.
Small compact digital video cameras and digital multitrack soundboard recordings taken from live mixing desks mean that acts can officially now download and stream gigs without the need for audiences to record them themselves.
Kate Bush, Beyonce, Jarvis Cocker, Johnny Marr from The Smiths and even The Who’s Roger Daltry have all spoken out against fans who have come to their shows and refused to join in, preferring to keep themselves at a remove, recording the show which is being performed in front of them.
A concert isn’t a passive event. It is a coming together of audience and performer. A singer needs a response in order to provide a show. Performer and audience are working together in concert to make that occasion a special event. It may happen again tomorrow night but the event will be different. Each night is unique.
I’m a huge fan of Bruce Springsteen and he has regularly recorded all his shows for years. His three-hour plus running times, his tendency to change at least a third of his set list every night, and his 18-month-long tours provide a wealth of rare material to be mined. Songs dropped from albums 30 years ago still make regular appearances at shows as do rare covers of songs from favoured artists.
He has begun to make these rare recordings available in perfect for just a few pence per track on his website. They are all downloadable so there is no need to produce expensive CDs. You can do that later.
This seems to me the perfect solution to the whole video phone problem.
We can put down the phone, engage with the show and download the rare tracks later.