Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan is not a fan of cell phones at shows. This we already know. In 2018, he came under fire while touring with A Perfect Circle for enacting a strict “no cell phones” policy, resulting in 60 fan ejections at a single show. A year later he did the same on a Tool tour, enacting a rigid edict that threatened ejections “without the opportunity to return and without a refund if you violate this simple request and elect to take photos during the performance,” save for the nightly one-song photo op exception.
Now, even though the quarantined masses are relegated to their living room couches for concert livestreams, Maynard is still doing his best to control your concert experience by purportedly keeping it free of distractions: by disabling chat functionality, which has become a crucial part of the livestream experience as the space has grown tremendously over the past seven months.
Puscifer, one of Maynard’s other projects, held a livestream event, Existential Reckoning: Live At Arcosanti, on Friday, October 30. Rather than an actual live show streamed in real time to the masses, this one was a pre-recorded affair made available to fans in an exclusive time window all at once. While watching this type of “livestream” isn’t as exciting as knowing you’re watching the band RIGHT NOW, it does offer a whole lot more control over the final product, and it’s not unheard of; Metallica did it, for example.
But here’s where things go off the rails: immediately before the concert began, fans were greeted with a message that read, “We hope you enjoy the show. We would like for you to be in the moment as much as possible, without distractions. For that reason, the chat function will be turned off during the show. Enjoy!”
Behold, a screen cap, provided by longtime friend of MetalSucks Jeff O., who paid for the broadcast:
This tactic is ALL SORTS OF WRONG. Let’s break it down.
For starters, livestreams are a completely different and new medium. Even if you believe that it’s worthwhile to try and control fans’ cell phone use at a real, in-person show (which I do not), you’ve got to accept that livestreams are a completely new experience with a different set of rules and expectations. Chatting with fans while it happens, for many, is PART OF THE FUN! We’re isolated, we want human connection! A connection which, it’s worth noting, is present at IRL shows regardless of phone use, by the simple fact that hundreds or thousands of bodies are all crammed into the same room. Sure, the chat window on these livestreams often becomes a wall that scrolls so fast it can’t even be followed, but that sorts itself out; if you don’t want to look at it, close it. Further, those chats can even serve to enhance the experience by making the stream a shared environment instead of an isolated one.
What’s more, just because folks aren’t chatting doesn’t mean they’re engaging with the show in the way Maynard wants them to. I’m 100% certain that a ton of people watching Puscifer’s stream still texted their friends, had conversations with their partners or friends, got up and did things around the house, ate dinner, etc. Shit, our friend Jeff, who texted us the above screen shot, told us “I missed most of [the show] because I was texting this pic out.”
But the bigger issue here is that it’s not only pointless but counterproductive and antagonistic to try and control fans’ behavior in this way.
Look, I get it: we ALL have been frustrated and baffled by fans who spend more time with their phones hoisted in the air than they do watching an actual show. It’s stupid, and I don’t condone it. But railing so aggressively against it is quickly catapulting Maynard into the “out of touch old man” category, a striking and unfortunate development for a person who fans (me included) have always held in high regard as being very in touch. All he’s doing is alienating his fans and making the problem worse.
Ultimately you’ve just got to laugh at this point, which is exactly what I did when Jeff texted me. It’s hilarious that Maynard is still trying to control how his fans experience his performances, even in their own homes, and even during a broadcast that isn’t truly live.
For what it’s worth, aside from a complaint about the $25 price point (compared to $10 for Clutch, $15 for Mr. Bungle and $20 for Nick Cave), Jeff told us the show was very good, saying it had stellar audio and video although it “lack[ed] the ‘live’ feel of other live streams and felt more like a long form video.” He says the band performed as a five piece, playing their entire new album start to finish without any old songs. “It was certainly made for fans of Puscifer/Maynard. Not APC or Tool fans,” he said, adding that there were “No major live variations just like watching them play the album in a cool location in the desert with cool lights, a stage rig and a sunrise over the desert for the last song.”
Cool. That’s great. But damn, cut it out with the control, Maynard.