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On Tool, Cell Phone Cameras, and Unintended Consequences
Tool has been adamant about enforcing a cell phone camera and recording ban for years. It's time they heard from an audience member what it's like.
TL:DR The Band’s Cell Phone Policy Is Actually Hurting the Fan Experience
Tool has been one of my favorite bands for a long time. Even with this criticism, I’m not drawing any lines in the sand or saying “I’m done!” Far from it. However, with recent discussion in the news of the band’s policy regarding cell phones and cell phone cameras, I think it’s valuable to provide another perspective. In the past ten years or so, as cell phones have become completely ubiquitous, Tool have tried to maintain a culture around their shows of mutual respect for the art and fellow fans. Most notably, they want you to enjoy the show and connect to the art with your ears and eyeballs and not through the screen of a phone.
It makes sense in theory. I’ve never gone to a show where I didn’t take pictures or videos and kicked myself later for not having mediocre footage that I’ll likely never watch again. I’ve never posted a short clip on Instagram or Twitter and had someone message me later thanking me for bringing them to the show with me. Nobody values your crappy short clips. I have enjoyed deep dives of fan-shot footage of some shows on Youtube, so I feel a bit hypocritical, but I’m also more psycho than most people. The point is that I respect Tool’s policy on its merits and when I’ve been at their shows, I’ve abided their policy almost entirely.
So, what’s my problem?
Here’s how this all works out in the stands based on my past two experiences in basketball-arena-style Tool shows in Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The vast majority of fans do the right things and abide by the policy, but as with anything some do not. Those fans are taking photos and filming and when they’re spotted by security the situation is addressed. How is it addressed? The security people use their flashlights like spotlights to try and get fans to realize they’ve been spotted and to get them to comply. That usually works, at least momentarily.
However, now you’re in the midst of some raucous Tool extended jam and you’re one of the rule-followers not looking at your phone, and all of a sudden a flashlight is shining down your row to someone sitting in front of you on their phone. And now another is shining toward someone in the next section over. Most people comply, but there’s someone who just won’t listen. Now security has grouped up with their chests puffed out looking for action. The congregation of security is noticeable and immediately pulls you out of the show on stage. Now, they’ve squoze their way past a few people and they're going through the process of explaining to the person why they’re being ejected from the show. Now security is escorting someone out and they’re pissed and yelling at each other. Meanwhile, I just missed another four minutes of some song I would have otherwise been enjoying.
The distraction from policy enforcement is far more disruptive than it would have been to just deal with the people choosing to live the show through their phones. And those security guards? They’re gleeful that they get some action. They’re enjoying the fact that they have some authority to do something to the entitled fans who’re in the nicest seats and simultaneously care the least for the policies that the band laid out for the evening.
One fan talked about how it played out in Orlando on Reddit and it jives with my recollection from Pittsburgh a few years before the pandemic.
WhyYouLookMeOhSo said, “Sharing this as a heads-up. And I’ll say that I’m good with the camera policy. Last night was my 4th show of this tour, 2 pre-pandemic and now 2 on the resumed tour. At the first 3 shows security enforced the policy but would normally just shine their light at the person and they’d quickly comply. Security in Orlando was much more aggressive. They were actually kicking people out for taking selfies with their friends even when lights were on between acts and during the 12-minute intermission. I couldn’t believe it but saw at least 3 people on the floor ejected when there wasn’t even a band on stage.
I thought that I must not be understanding what was occurring so I approached one of the security personnel and asked if I could take a selfie with my brother as it was between bands. He said, ‘No, it’s a total prohibition from open to close with no exceptions.’ I suggested that I thought maybe they were interpreting the rule a bit too literally, not that I expected it to change anything as they were being huge pr*cks about it. Seemed like a power trip just to ruin people’s nights.
In theory, it’s a great idea. In practice, it feels hostile not only to the rule-breakers but the rule-followers who also paid hundreds of dollars to sit there and try their best to enjoy the band on stage in a basketball arena.
With respect to the band and their wishes, I think they should reconsider. It’s a basketball arena show as it is. You’re not going to create some monumental personal connection with the audience in that venue anyway. It’s even harder to enact a policy without it being even more distracting than the thing you’re trying to prevent.
So, with love and respect, cut the shit, Tool. Let it go. We’ve all been to shows where people film incessantly. It’s kind of annoying. Your shows are much worse right now.