What in the world has gotten into Chris Carrabba?
This week his band, Dashboard Confessional, played Constitution Hall in D.C. and it was … just okay. That’s strange, considering I saw this very same band just nine months ago and it was, without a doubt, one of the best concerts of my life.
Of course, the latter was part of a college tour, and Dashboard played on a sparse stage set up at one end of a big ol’ gym in the Middle of Nowhere, Maryland, to about 750 to 1,000 people. (It was basically a perfect show—check out the November 2005 folder at right for more.)
In the intervening time, Carrabba released “Dusk and Summer,” his fourth and most arena-friendly album. And, apparently, he’s decided to overhaul his entire stage persona. Now, I’m certainly not one to criticize an artist for expanding or changing; to simply play the same old warhorses the same old way for years on end typically is a bad thing (unless you’re the ageless wonder Tom Petty). Carrabba’s 31 years old now, so I appreciate some of the more subtle changes he’s made for this tour, such as playing “The Good Fight” all-electric or mellowing out “The Swiss Army Romance” so it’s more mature and contemplative, as opposed to the heart-on-sleeve post-teenage angst way it was originally conceived.
But elsewhere, Carrabba’s decided to come out from behind the mic and guitar, parading around the stage trying to unleash his inner Robert Plant. He looks absolutely ridiculous (and uncomfortable, and unnatural) holding up his left hand, palm out, with his eyes closed and body bent at the waist. I realize Dashboard is playing to bigger crowds now than it ever has (they sold out large concert halls in D.C., Boston, and NYC this week), but Carrabba’s changed his style more drastically than could ever be considered innate. It’s way too campy; for the first time in four shows, it felt like Carrabba was disingenuous, posing for the crowd with total lack of any real emotion. Just because you’re playing to a bigger room doesn’t mean you have to act “bigger.” There’s only one Bono and, sorry Chris, you ain’t him.
I’m hoping this is just a phase, just a step in Carrabba’s figuring out how to age gracefully. As I wrote in my review for “Dusk and Summer,” he’s too old to be doing the same old thing. Consider his quote from a Boston Herald article this week:
“When you come from the DIY world that I come from, you realize that there’s a reason to embrace those values. But there’s also a reason to not let those things roll over your creative nature in a negative way. That was a liberating feeling to discover in making this record.”
In principle, I totally agree with him. Indie/punk “cred” is about as fickle a fanbase as you’ll ever find—one wrong move according to some unrealistic, unattainable, unwritten, inscrutable standard, and they label you a sellout and trash you on punknews.org. That’s not what I’m doing here. I have no problem with Dashboard’s rising popularity; what bothers me is seemingly changing who you are to meet that new audience. Because, man, I hope D/C is not following in the footsteps of DMB; one beloved band’s betrayal is enough.
It would be one thing if these stylistic alterations accompanied a better experience (hello, ZooTV). You want to add stage effects, backdrops, etc.? Fine. But Wednesday night’s show was middling at best, where the added “production value” too severely determined the course of the music. Plus, two opening bands meant the setlist was cropped down to 16 songs and less than an hour and a half. Dashboard’s playing the same set every single night and, as they wind down to the end of this tour, they look flat-out bored. Even their best songs—“Vindicated,” “Hands Down,” “Again I Go Unnoticed”—felt rote.
That’s not to say there weren’t some nice moments, though, and that I didn’t have a good time. “So Long, So Long” is a winner, and all the other new songs sounded good live, too (even though I can’t believe they’re not playing “Reason to Believe”). If I had never seen the band before, I probably would have been fine, especially with such great seats (second row!) that only cost $25. And maybe I just caught them on an off night. But when I know what Dashboard’s capable of, this show was, in general, a hollow disappointment.
Rooftops and Invitations
The Good Fight
The Swiss Army Romance
The Secret’s in the Telling
Again I Go Unnoticed
Ghost of a Good Thing
Gone, Gone, Gone (John Ralston on lead vocals)
Dusk and Summer
Remember to Breathe
So Long, So Long
Running time: 1 hour, 25 minutes
***And a note about opening acts Say Anything and Ben Lee***
Say Anything goes down as one of the worst openers I’ve ever seen. Musically, they’re tight and exciting, but frontman Max Bemis is horrendous. He set an awful tone leading up to Dashboard’s set. And what’s worse, Carrabba tagged one of Bemis’ lines into “Swiss Army,” then brought Bemis out onstage to sing part of “Remember to Breathe.” We would have been much better served with just the charming, funny Aussie Ben Lee and a longer set from Dashboard.