In a review of a recent show by Neutral Milk Hotel, Grayson Haver Currin griped that frontman Jeff Mangum’s no-photo policy for concertgoers plays like a cynical ploy:
Mangum is attempting to preserve the same legacy of an enigma that turned into a bankable career during his prolonged absence; in an age of instant information and updates, where what you had for breakfast becomes part of your digital identity, can you actually prove that you saw Neutral Milk Hotel without telling and showing your friends? … [T]he unexpected and unfortunate part … is that he’s dictating how those who actively fund him can interact with their own nostalgia, the exact thing he’s been preying on and profiting from for several touring years now. Mangum’s reluctance to be photographed seems less like a savior complex or a production concern than a brilliant financial ruse: If you can’t preserve this experience, then goddammit, you will have to pay for it again and again and again.
Judy Berman doesn’t follow:
I don’t think that logic holds up. If you’re the kind of person whose concert experience is made or broken by the ability to “preserve” it via Instagram, then what do you get out of repeatedly paying to see a band that will never, ever let you do that? If Mangum’s photo ban really were rooted in some master plan to exploit his fans’ memories, you’d hope he’d do a better job monetizing it. Where is the Neutral Milk Hotel Tour 2014 Official “Bootleg” Series? Where is the one band-affiliated photographer who will sell you his shots of each show, with a hefty percentage of the proceeds going right into Jeff Mangum’s pocket? Where are the dumb fan-exploitation schemes like this one?
She sees plenty of advantages in no-photo shows:
At most shows I’ve been to recently, especially the ones where the performers have a significant following, I’ve been practically surrounded by people who’ve had their phones out for the entirety of every set, constantly Instagramming and shooting videos and texting or Snapchatting all of it to their friends. I’m fully aware that you can’t criticize this shit in 2014 without seeming like an out-of-touch Luddite, but so be it. It’s a special kind of terrible to shell out money to see a band you love, only to realize you’ll be watching them through the iPad the guy in front you is holding over his head. I mean, is that dude’s right to spoil the show for me (and everyone else unlucky enough to stand behind him) more important than my right to a clear view of the performance I paid for?
(Video: Jeff Mangum performs an encore at MASS MoCA on February 16, 2013)