By Ray Hamill
I traveled to the Bay Area to see a show this past week, and I ended up taking a trip back in time, back to an age that seems like a lifetime ago, a time before cellphones at concerts.
The show was at the Nob Hill Masonic Center in San Francisco and featured one of the most iconic women in the history of rock music, Chrissie Hynde, who apparently is not a big fan of cellphones at her shows, and, true to her character, isn’t afraid to voice her opinion on the matter.
As soon as you walked in the door, in fact, there were signs everywhere asking the audience in a polite manner not to use their cellphones during the show, while the ushers repeatedly echoed the sentiment as they led people to their seats.
I even noticed a few people taking photos of these signs with their cellphones, which I found kind of amusing, and I wanted to take a photo of these people taking photos of the signs that were asking them not to take photos, just to show Chrissie, but I’m not sure she would have appreciated the irony.
Chrissie’s a survivor. You have to be to last in anything as long as she has, particularly in the male-dominated world of rock and roll from which she established herself on the way to selling more than 25 million albums.
I first saw her and her band, The Pretenders, 30 years ago as a wide-eyed teenager in Dublin, Ireland. It was the first concert I ever attended and as far as I can remember there wasn’t a single cellphone on hand, not even one of those big clunky ugly 80s version of a cellphone that could only actually make phone calls (boring!).
Apparently Chrissie also feels a sense of nostalgia toward those “good old days” before cellphones at concerts, and as the announcer at the show this week reiterated the request to please not use our cellphones, he told us “be in the moment and not behind the screen.”
Shows these days seem more about trying to preserve the moment than actually enjoying it, and too often we spend our time recording the event instead of taking it in.
And for what?
Naturally, as soon as the show began, some clown blatantly ignored Chrissie’s request and began recording on their cellphone, so Chrissie, being Chrissie, stopped singing and told them in no uncertain terms to stop.
(The same thing happened at her show two nights later in Santa Rosa, because apparently there’s always one idiot who thinks the rules don’t apply to them, this time resulting in a round of applause and cheers from the crowd when Chrissie called them out.)
No one challenged Chrissie in such a brazen manner for the remainder of the night, and while I did notice some clever individuals slyly attempt to use their cellphones out of sight, so too did the ushers who spent much of the evening busily scanning the crowd and telling them to stop.
But they have to understand, it’s difficult for us. We’re addicted. Society has impressed the addiction upon us, and it’s a lot to expect us to go a whole two hours without reaching for our cellphones and the warm comforting sensation we get from them.
Chrissie apparently appreciated our efforts, and those who stuck around for the second encore were rewarded when she thanked us for it and told us if we really, really, really, really wanted to use our cellphones we could do so for the final song.
The relief was almost palpable and like a crowd of gunslingers from the old west we instinctively reached down and drew our weapons, phone-slingers at the height of our game.
And then, looking around the arena at the cellphones protruding into the air everywhere and hiding the faces of the fans, that’s when it struck me.
The sudden contrast was dramatic.
We really do view concerts in a different manner than we used to, recording as much as we can on our “cell-computers” and feeling the need to preserve the occasion or showcase it on Instagram or Faceless-book, instead of losing ourselves in the moment, and you have to wonder in an ironic way just how much we’re actually missing as we attempt to broadcast the moment and keep it forever.
This week, however, was different. Different like it used to be.
This week, I got to see a show without cellphones. Now there’s a novel idea.