Revention Music Center
May 1, 2018
In this era of never-ending connectivity, many of us find ourselves wondering if there might be something better going on when we experience even a hint of boredom. Personally, I'm inclined to check my phone every few minutes, even though doing so is rarely fulfilling. It's a pesky habit that removes me from the moment, and it's particularly bothersome to some peformers.
Enter Jack White, the enigmatic rock star who helped revive garage rock in the early 2000s. The Nashville star's two-night stop in Houston was punctuated by his penchant for the quaint, as he forced concertgoers to stow their phones away in magnetically-sealed pouches before they could enter Revention Music Center for his show.
We weren’t allowed to take pictures, film video or check basketball scores. Instead, we were bullied into concentrating on White and his band for the entire evening. This self-centered musician took choice away from his fans! And you know what? It was actually quite nice.
Save for a little added difficulty on my end in regards to taking notes, Tuesday’s show was a breath of fresh air, an unadulterated rock and roll concert free of flashing cameras and screens hindering anyone's view.
For two hours, White held the crowd's undivided attention. His guitar wailed, echoing through the venue. His voice warbled as he screeched and crooned. And his backing band showed their grit, especially the pianist and drummer who were given nearly as much time in the spotlight as the frontman and his guitar.
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The stage was enveloped in hues of blue for most of the evening, conjuring an image similar to the cover of his latest album, Boarding House Reach. Behind the band, three vertical screens switched between live-streaming video and ominous artwork as lights flashed, creating an especially immersive experience.
White is a true performer. His music sounded better live than it ever could on record, with each instrument building and crescendoing in a way that just can't be replicated through headphones or speakers. Many of White's songs need room to breathe, and Tuesday's phone-free environment provided them the opportunity.
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There weren't many lulls in the set, but during those rare moments when attendees might have absentmindedly reached for their phones, they instead kept their eyes and ears on White, giving him plenty of time to win them over. He did so repeatedly.
There’s a theory called voluntary simplicity. It's a concept based on the premise that, when presented with too many options, we take too long to make a decision and usually end up with buyer's remorse anyway. White removed any optionality and demanded his audience experience a singular moment with him. And he succeeded.
Phone-free concerts may not be the future. After all, it takes a lot of talent and brass to accomplish what White did. But his performance was proof that they can exist. And maybe Tuesday night can serve as a reference point, a subtle reminder to those of us who might be inclined to reach for our phones at the next show we attend.
Because we all chose to be there; White just made sure we were paying attention.