What single band describes the “emo music” experience? Ask anyone under the age of 30 and they will probably name Dashboard Confessional and describe stereotypically depressed adolescents looking for an easy way out of their acne-ridden pubescent phase. Dashboard Confessional’s songs may have become anthems for emo kids that wear their jeans too tight, but Chris Carrabba’s songwriting and musical talents transcend these stereotypes.
Returning to his songwriting roots, Carrabba has returned to the smaller venues to connect with his fans, now older, more mature, and slaves to the system they so adamantly wanted to rebel against. Dashboard did not begin as a full band, but rather as an avenue for Carrabba to share his songs in an acoustic setting. Only after the success of 2000’s Swiss Army Romance and the 2002 single “Screaming Infidelities” did it grew to a full-fledged band.
At the Troubadour in Hollywood on November 30th, Carrabba lit up the stage with his impassioned lyrics and heartfelt performance. Arriving on stage in a red plaid shirt with his sleeves rolled up and his perfectly gelled and quaffed hair, Carrabba opened with “Ghost of a Good Thing” from the 2003 album A Mark, A Mission, A Brand, A Scar. His voice barely carried over the predominantly female chorus in the room, in addition to the screaming that spawned from every time Carrabba smiled or sang with particular feeling. Going straight into “The Swiss Army Romance,” the lyrics almost seemed ironic as the audience sang along “man will they buy all your lines” and “we’re not twenty-one/but the sooner we are/the sooner the fun will begin.”
Soon joined by co-guitarist John Lefler, Carrabba announced they would not be working from a setlist that night and that “if you want to hear anything, shout it out.” As everyone yelled out their favorite song, they launched into “The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most,” and the harder Carrabba closed his eyes, the louder the audience sang along. Although there was minimal interaction during the overall performance, he occassionally showed his human side by actually taking a fan’s camera and taking a picture of Lefler for someone, as well as expressing his surprise that someone was shooting video during the show.
Introducing new song “Until Morning,” Carrabba asked “if you know it, sing along, and if you don’t, sing along anyways so I don’t feel bad that you don’t know it” as he unbuttoned his shirt. He followed up with “So Impossible” and a switch to electric guitar on “For You To Notice.” The crowd began to quiet down as Carrabba played another tune from their latest record Alter The Ending, “Get Me Right.” He displayed his incredible musicianship throughout the song as he kept up the missing bass beat by hitting his guitar and the energy of the performance was obviously directly correlated to the level of screaming in the audience. Both Carrabba and Lefler were technically perfect players, which can often ruin live performances, but both adapted to their audience. During “Bend and Not Break,” instead of singing loudly into the microphone, Carrabba chose instead to back away from the mic during his most passionate lines to avoid having his vocal spoil the overall quality of the music.
Trying to find the energy again after a plug for the new record and one of Lefler’s song, Carrabba explained to the crowd how they often like to perform cover songs. It seemed as though the show might go downhill afterward with the distribution of shakers to all of the audience members for “Merry Little Christmas” and “Carry This Picture.”
The shakers were soon cast aside for “Stolen” from 2006’s Dusk and Summer and crowd favorite “Screaming Infidelities,” featuring Carrabba on the piano. In a successful attempt to ride on the energy of one of their most successful songs and videos to date, Carrabba continued on the keys for “Belle of the Boulevard” from their latest release with a falsetto almost jarring to the ears. As the night came to a close after “Remember to Breathe,” Carrabba reflected how the crowd “manages to make it different every time we play that song” and how many familiar faces he saw in the audience, despite their inconsistent touring.
The evening closed with “The Good Fight” and “Where There’s Gold,” before launching into their 2003 hit “Vindicated” from the Spiderman film series for their encore, followed by “Hands Down.” With a thank you mid-chorus, Carrabba remained on stage to greet his fans and encouraged the sense of friendship his fans feel with his music. The minor feedback problems during the show faded to the background with an obvious sense that doing a solo, acoustic tour, was not about fulfilling some selfish musical or personal need as a musician, but about connecting with his fans on a level that is not always found in popular music today.
The passion with which the fans sang along to the final song, “My heart is yours to fill or burst, to break or bury, or wear as jewelery, whichever you prefer,” was so meaningful to so many people, whether they knew them from their teenage or college years, even the haters couldn’t deny how Carrabba’s songs have touched so many music fans and connected with their “emotions.”
Photos by Brett Padelford