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December 14, 2009

Concert review: Dashboard Confessional at The Ottobar last night

chris carrabbaLast night, when Dashboard Confessional front man Chris Carrabba played an all-acoustic show at The Ottobar, it was like he'd come full circle.

Dashboard started out as a solo project for Carrabba, and gradually grew into a full band. But last night, it was just Carrabba and Dashboard guitarist John Lefler on stage, offering up loose, acoustic versions of their emo hits.

"It's fun to do this once in a while," Carrabba said.

The show was sold out, to no one's surprise. Dashboard usually plays in much larger venues; in fact, they had booked a full-band tour this fall (their latest album, "Alter the Ending," came out Nov. 10). But when one of the band members suffered an undisclosed emergency, Carrabba postponed the full-band tour and booked a series of acoustic dates in small clubs such as The Ottobar.

How small is small for these guys? Well, their tour bus was longer than the club was wide ...

The show was dynamite, to no one's surprise. Whenever you get a couple hundred screaming, hormonal teenagers and emo icon Carrabba under one roof, the energy is explosive. It's a match made in Hot Topic heaven. Parents aside, I was probably one of the oldest people there, and I'm 26.

At times, Carrabba acted like a camp counselor, leading the kids through singalongs of whole verses of his songs. He would strike the opening chord of a song and the crowd would know exactly what he was about to play. It was uncanny.

Carrabba and Lefler both played acoustic guitar, and took turns at an upright piano. There were missed cues, botched solos and such, but if anything, they added to the show's spontaneity. Carrabba took a couple requests, and played a handful of covers.

Dashboard's heart-on-my-sleeve sound is a very specific kind of rock, with a lot of fans and even more haters. Love it or not, there's no denying: Carrabba does it well. At 34, he can still hit the high, whining notes on early songs such as "Screaming Infedelities."

Sweat poured off Carrabba, who smiled for photos in mid-song and stomped his worn black dress shoes on the stage to give the songs some oomph. He blew through a 19-song set in an hour and 12 minutes, and came back out for a short encore before calling it a night. And for his young audience, what a night it was.

Here is the set list:

The Brilliant Dance
The Places You Have Come to Fear the Most
The Good Fight
I'll See You There
Where There's Gold
Belle of the Boulevard (cc on piano)
Ghost of a Good Thing
So Long Sweet Summer
Bend and Not Break
Screaming Infidelities
Saints and Sailors
Until Morning
Up My Sleeve*
El Scorcho***
The Swiss Army Romance
Get Me Right

Hands Down

*John Lefler song
**Ingrid Michaelson cover
***Weezer cover

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:53 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Concert reviews


This was one of the best shows I've been to for a while. As a longtime DC fan, I find it insulting that you label this as a Hot Topic concert for "hormonal teenagers." I too am 26 and I was looking around, I saw many more people with beers in their hands than black x's.

However, this review doesn't shock me. I saw you, Mr. Sessa, standing next to the stage looking completely miserable.

Your job is awesome, try to smile.

Kristin! You spotted me and didn't come over to say hello? For shame.

I looked miserable? That was just my emo face.

Also, there were a ton of teenagers there -- more teenagers than I've ever seen in the Ottobar.

I can't remember the last time I called a show "dynamite" and "explosive" and "what a night it was" and still gotten heat from fans. Geez!

Ah, frustrated I missed this. I'm not a massive DC fan, but would have loved to see the show. Sounds like it was a pretty good one.

I agree with Kristen on your comments about the Hot Topic concert for "hormonal teenagers". My friends and I are no way in that group and if you looked around, it looked like the majority were over 21.

The show was amazing, full of energy and emotions - like most Dashboard shows have been over the years.

hmm so you were the guy behind us up against the wall taking notes the entire time? Have to agree with Kristen again, you did look miserable. It's not a crime to enjoy yourself.

Quote of the day...

"I looked Miserable? That was just my Emo face." - Sam Sessa.

You took notes at a concert??? What are you, some kind of music and entertainment journalist????

The only time I've seen Chris Carabba play was with Dashboard at Tigerfest 2007. I've never seen a Tigerfest act so widely despised. People started throwing things and they packed it in after about 45 minutes.

The next year we got The Roots, which went much better.

I wish I could've attended this show. I'll never forget the first time I heard Chris Carraba's voice. It was on a friend's punk/hardcore/emocore college radio show in October of 2000. I was 15 at the time. My friend told me on the phone to call him back after he plays this song. He really wanted me to hear this, so I listened intensely. I called him back but was a bit speechless about what I had just heard. What I heard was this beautiful song called "A Plain Morning."

Chris' work was refreshing to me and countless other hardcore and punk rock kids (and well a lot of those "kids" have grown up into twenty and thirty somethings by now). His honesty meant something. He was just a young guy who got tired of his hardcore band and decided to try an acoustic guitar and to just pour his heart out. There's nothing more punk than expressing yourself and not caring what anyone thinks.

I saw Dashboard briefly (I arrived late to the show) in 2001 opening for Face to Face, h2o and Snapcase at the 9:30 Club. It was just Chris and his guitar and maybe a friend on stage playing guitar, too. There's something beautiful in the simplicity of what he did back then.

I really wanted to attend this recent show, because it's rare when he does gigs like this anymore. Also, the fact that Chris Carrabba and New Found Glory are even speaking to each other is landmark!

In this review, Sam, when you mention about DC coming full circle, it's more than just him playing acoustic guitar. NFG were the ones who discovered Chris. They loved what they had heard so much that they quickly got their label at the time, Drive-Thru Records, to release his debut album. Shortly after the release of Swiss Army Romance in the fall of 2000, some strange controversy happened. Supposedly Chris signed an official contract with Vagrant Records, even though he had promised Drive-Thru that he wasn't going to leave them. Because of this falling out, Chris cut his ties with NFG. In my mind, this current tour is proof of how things do in fact come full circle.

Thank you for the review. I highly doubt that there were any young kids at this show. Maybe some 15 year olds, but really why though? I mean they were in elementary school when The Places You've Come to Fear the Most was released. It seems like any serious NFG or DC fans who were there are most likely in their 20s or 30s and probably don't go shopping at Hot Topic.

One final comment...the song that has the part "so long sweet summer", isn't called that. The name of the song is called "Age Six Racer." It's one of my favorites and as a journalist, I figured I'd give you heads up.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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