A pox on phones at concerts (and how to stop them)

I went to a fantastic gig the other week. L7, back in action after 13 years of inactivity (ok, so they got back together in 2014, but you get what I mean), and live in concert for the first time in Australia since 1998 .
You can read below about how good they were, how tight they sounded, and how the show was just excellent. Unfortunately, part of this otherwise-great gig was soured by an all-too-common problem.
This L7 concert was a sold-out and therefore crowded occasion. I was situated in a sort of ok-but-not-perfect-spot near the side of the stage. The spot itself was not a problem. In fact, even with a support pillar in the way, the view was moderately good — except for the 20 per cent of the time when that view was interrupted by someone's illuminated phone screen.
If you’ve been attending gigs for the last 10 or so years you’ll be well-versed with this raging pain in the arse phenomenon. The Shovel got it right with its story title man forced to watch concert through his own eyes after mistakenly leaving phone at home.

Phones at concerts. A thousand plagues upon them.
To clarify: there is nothing wrong with taking a quick photo or five at a gig that you love. I can even stomach a quick little video. The problem — at least for anyone with the audacity to not be fixated on their phone — is the overpowering volume of people who repeatedly pull out phones (or God forbid, an ipad) and spend half their time not-looking at the performance they’ve paid to attend.
I wish I could say it was a so-called Millennial disease, that it was I who was unnecessarily grumpy because of some generation gap. That was not the case at L7, however, for the person in front of me, hyper-focussing on the stage through a small backlit phone screen, was definitely not younger than myself.
A thousand plagues upon them. It’s a chronic problem that spoils gigs. Yet saddest part of all is that phone obsessives sometimes literally don’t realise what they’re missing, something I saw first-hand during the last Iron Maiden tour.
If any heavy metal band has a world-class stage show, it is Maiden. To see my favourite band, I had purchased floor tickets, where I found my view constantly blocked by the young chap in front of me — or rather, blocked by his large-screen phone that went up during and between and after each song.
Towards the end of the set there’s a brief lull where the lights go down. This precedes the song The Number Of The Beast, but before the Woe to you,o earth and sea bit comes on, something extraordinary occurs on the otherwise dark stage. As you look up, a faint grey figure begins to materialise. Initially not quite clear as your eyes adjust, it transforms into an amazing sight, as you realise you’re looking at a gigantic satanic figure, towering maybe 20m high and leering at you from the darkness.
It’s an unbelievable, awe-inspiring, unforgettable piece of stage-craft. Its purpose is to build tension as it introduces one of the most famous heavy metal songs of all time. And all this occurs while you're at a concert for one of the greatest heavy metal bands of all time.
You’d think all eyes would be fixed on what was going on ahead of them. Yet it was painfully obvious that this young chap, blocking my view with his large phone, had missed the whole thing. Why? Because he’d evidently decided that this ‘interlude’ was a good time to capture a wide-angled panoramic shot of the arena. To do this you need to firmly hold your phone and pivot in a slow circle, steadily pointing your device at the seated audience — and therefore look in all directions but the stage. By the time he was done, he’d completely missed the entire giant-Satan-appearing-out-of-the-darkness thing. He was clearly oblivious to what he’d just managed to not see at this event he’d paid good money to attend (Iron Maiden concert tickets are not cheap). I suppose he at least got a good photo of the crowd, right?

So what is to be done?
  • Perhaps bands can sell two categories of tickets: one at the regular price, titled GENERAL ADMISSION WITH PHONE CAMERA, and a second category, going slightly cheaper, titled GENERAL ADMISSION FOR PEOPLE WHO ACTUALLY WANT TO SEE THE GIG.
  • Maybe bands or venue staff can hand out pieces of cardboard with PUT THE FUCKING PHONE AWAY printed in large letters. Not sure if the insurance would cover the additional violence though.
  • Or perhaps bands can do what GWAR are famous for doing at concerts — saturating the first 15 rows of the audience with fake blood. It might only stop the first 15 rows from interfering with the show, but if you’re that close to the stage, being covered in gallons of fake blood is an excellent trade-off for a phone-free view of the performance.

Phones are the bane of modern gigs. A thousand plagues upon them.

How would you fix it?

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