In the 1996 film The Cable Guy, characters played by Jim Carrey and Matthew Broderick visit Medieval Times, the jousting arena where patrons feast on greasy chicken and potato wedges with their bare hands. When Broderick's character asks the waitress for a knife and fork, he's informed "there were no utensils in medieval times, hence there are no utensils at Medieval Times. Would you like a refill on that Pepsi?"
That's sort of how the sold-out Jack White concert Friday night at the Bomb Factory felt.
Although White has become a modern rock 'n' roll legend, thanks to his work in the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, the Dead Weather, and his own recent run of stellar solo albums, his Deep Ellum visit was arguably more notable for this reason: He prohibited fans from using cellphones.
It was the same tactic used by Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock in recent Dallas-Fort Worth gigs. They, and White, called for all cellphones to be secured inside locked pouches provided by a company called Yondr before the show.
So while big-name comedians have successfully hung up on their fans during live shows, this type of attention control is new and certainly discussion-worthy at rock concerts, given that snapping pics and shooting video for social media has become as much of the live show experience as shouting "Freebird" at the stage.
I arrived at the show on Friday night firmly in the camp of hating the no-phones policy — a policy that continued for White's second Dallas show on Sunday night. It's not that I was against a distraction-free concert environment. And, sure, I craved the "let's be present together," warm and fuzzy nature of the concert's intent. Still, having a millionaire rock star setting rules for how I am to behave at his show felt overbearing. After all, I'm a 42-year old, married dad of two young kids. What if my family needed me?
Why am I being reprimanded for the digital addiction of others and for Jack White's own fragile ego? I thought as I stood in the lengthy line to have my lifeline to the outside world yanked from me.
But as the line moved swiftly along Canton Street towards the Bomb Factory's front entrance, there weren't any signs the phone-securing process had an adverse affect on the efficiency of getting inside. An army of smiling Yondr phone thieves, equipped with large bins of the soft, lockable pouches, handled their duties quickly. The locks on the pouches work similarly to those bulky security tags affixed to expensive leather jackets at retail shops, and the pouch is slim and small enough to easily fit in jean pockets or a purse.
They offered me one more lifeline: By setting the phone on vibrate mode, as staffers encouraged us to do, I could not only stay in possession of my phone, but I'd also know if I was getting a call or a text. Anyone who had to check found plenty of clearly marked areas outside of the venue to get the pouch unlocked. I'll admit my concerns of being disconnected were softened, even though it came with a penalty: I'd give up my prime spot near the stage if I chose to check my phone.
But looking around, I seemed to be the only one with any sort of philosophical resistance to the no-phone edict.
"I love it," said John Frazier, 56, of Houston who drove in to attend the show with his Dallas-dwelling sister and a friend. "It reminds me of when I first saw KISS in 1972, and everyone was there to enjoy the show, be in the moment and see the concert as it was intended to be seen."
Admittedly, hearing real fans, not the promoters or the performers, be enthusiastic about the policy had a warming effect on my cool view. They weren't worried about whether White was being a whiny dictator; they felt certain they were getting a killer show in return. I kept asking around, and the feel-good vibes seemed to only grow.
"It's my first show where my phone was taken away like this, but it's cool with me," said Justin Bergstrom, 26, of Tyler who was there with his friends, Dalton Severin, 26, of Tyler and Heath Terrell, 28, of Dallas, who both agreed.
"I can go a couple of hours without my phone if it means I'll enjoy the concert more," the fan told me.
It's been almost a decade since White performed in this area, when he appeared as the drummer for the Dead Weather at the House of Blues in 2009. And truly, the concert was the majestic display of commanding rock 'n' roll theater that Dallas fans craved. In the end, I traded my phone for a two-hour concert from a Renaissance man.
Just as if I were eating greasy Medieval Times chicken with my bare hands, I found a carefree calm as I went back in time and enjoyed the show the way people used to. I stood there and listened — just listened — as White played through his hits, including "Hotel Yorba" and "Lazaretto." Following the show, I unlocked my phone to see what I had missed, but as it happens, I had seen and heard all I needed to without it.