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Gimme a light



You know those little things that bug you even though you can't quite put a finger on why?

That's happened to me a couple times recently.

At recent concerts by The Arkells here in Whistler and Adele down in Vancouver, the performers asked audience members to pull out and wave their cell phones, ideally with the flashlight app on, mimicking lighters than have since gone out of style.

It's a trend that's been happening for a while, no doubt, but it's one that's always rubbed me the wrong way, though I can't determine exactly why.

Let's take a couple steps back, perhaps.

There seem to be disputes over how the tradition of lighting extremely small fires at concerts began. Some point to folk singer Melanie's set at Woodstock in 1969, where she played after a massive downpour and crowd members lit candles in appreciation of her set. She later wrote "Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)" about the experience (and for my money, her cover of The Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday" is the better version). A month later, John Lennon and Yoko Ono were hyped up by MC Kim Fowley instructing fans to "Get (their) matches ready." After the BIC disposable lighter debuted in the early '70s, the first occurrence seems to be at a Bob Dylan and The Band concert, and the image was even immortalized on the Before the Flood album cover. And whether it's the cause or more of an opportunist move, those lighting up some smokeables certainly took advantage of the situation.

I can't exactly remember the first time I saw a phone used in place of a lighter but it rubbed me the wrong way immediately.

I was one of the rare Millennials who tried to avoid cell phones and wasn't overjoyed when I got a little Nokia for Christmas in 2004. Few of my friends had cells at that time, so if any of us were away from a landline, we were only found by instinct or by chance. It felt like a revocation of freedom at the time, but in practice, was a tool my parents and I rarely used.

Even though they were more basic at that time, cell phones were more of a luxury item than the necessity they are, or at least perceived to be, today. So upon seeing that first wave of mobile light, at the time, it felt like people were being asked to wave their diamond rings or Armani sport coats (if they had them, of course).

It turned what could be an inclusive appreciation of music into one where only a few of the more well-off audience members could participate. Even if you don't smoke, you could still pop down a toonie for a lighter at 7-Eleven if you were so inclined; nobody's picking up a cell phone just for a concert.

These days, most people have a phone and I imagine if the trend were more recent, it wouldn't come off as quite so irritating. Of course, no one who paid through the nose for Adele tickets was going to be worried about money (my partner and I lucked into last-minute comps through her job) and anyone without a phone would either be a child or someone who had explicitly made that choice.

Adele incorporates phone use into her show, even beyond the light-up tribute during her wonderful cover of Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love," leaning over and posing for fans to take selfies in between tunes, bantering with them all the while. It's a fan-friendly thing to do, especially if those fans are shelling out hundreds, or even thousands, of bucks to be that close.

But some artists are going a different way entirely. Alicia Keys has banned phones from her performances, as concertgoers must put their phones in a magnetic pouch that only ushers can unlock. They're allowed to take calls or selfies or do other fiddling if they go into the concourse. If it comes at the cost of a blurry photo or low-quality 15-second recording, I think most people will live.

And on her website, the aforementioned Melanie politely asks people to refrain from cell-phone use for shows as she continues to tour alongside her son.

"I'm asking you to please help me stop the madness. If you attend one of my shows, you can expect that Beau and I plan to share a very special evening with you. More than anything else, we come prepared to create music, magic and memories for everyone who attends. Buy a CD or T-shirt after the show if you'd like to have a souvenir. During the program, we need your undivided attention. Turn off your cellphones (and any other recording devices) and become part of that experience. Let's all enjoy the show. Together, alone."

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