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Dashboard Confesses to Angry Suburban Youth

Too Much Heartfelt Compassion

By Petar Simich

Dashboard Confessional

The Hatch Shell

September 7, 2 p.m.

In an unprecedented move, Dashboard Confessional and Hot Rod Circuit gave a free show at the Hatch Shell this past Saturday, sponsored by WBCN’s Back to School Concert Series. I knew I was going to the right place that afternoon as I followed the steady stream of teenagers walking along the Esplanade.

Sure enough, there were at least 1,000 people scattered along the grounds, some seeking shelter from the sun, while most sat out on the open field. Several booths were set up in the trees surrounding the Shell, offering french fries, ice cream, AT&T Broadband, Youth Vote Coalition info, and band merchandise. The overwhelming majority of the audience were high school and college kids of a variety of flavors; there were your “hardcore” punks, who looked like they hadn’t washed their clothes in weeks; skater punks; Abercrombie & Fitch kids; and the emo kids with their messenger bags littered with band pins and patches, wearing an assorted mismatch of punk clothing. But the fashion award goes to two young ladies, one wearing a necktie with her shirt, the other wearing a tube sock on her left arm; Avril Lavigne is leaving her mark on society.

After futzing around with a sound check and a quick introduction by some guy (the show promoter?), Hot Rod Circuit was the first up. They have the basic four-member band setup and were actually pretty solid in their performance. They reminded me of a somewhat softer version of Hey Mercedes, who, not surprisingly, is on Vagrant Records with Dashboard Confessional. (Vagrant Records is the emo record label today.)

The lead guitarist enjoyed jumping around like a maniac every now and then to give the notes he was hitting that little extra umph. The crowd in the front seemed to enjoy it, launching water bottles into the air to pass the time. A mosh pit formed in the center and the occasional crowd surfer was spotted, which was rather odd, seeing that the music wasn’t very hard or aggressive. Although their playing capability and performance was good, Hot Rod Circuit’s songs failed to keep me interested for very long, as they all tended to sound the same after the third song. Instead of joining in the festivities, I was quite content sitting in the back; I must have yawned about twenty times during Hot Rod Circuit’s forty-minute set.

After watching the roadies take what seemed like an hour to set up an acoustic guitar, the intro guy came on stage and shouted to the crowd, “Welcome, angry suburban youth!” What are these kids angry about? Did their parents buy them a Motorola cell phone when they wanted a Nokia? Dashboard Confessional, a la Nine Inch Nails, is Christopher Carraba’s vehicle for his songs, which are mostly Carraba singing and playing the acoustic guitar, but for live performances he is joined by a drummer, bassist, and guitarist/keyboardist providing backup vocals as well.

People crowded the field and gave a roaring approval of Dashboard’s appearance on stage. Carraba opened with a solo acoustic number from his newest album and was soon joined by the other three band members. The full band added much more to the songs making them more dynamic, interesting, and in a few cases even enjoyable to listen to, at least more enjoyable than the album versions. But again, it wasn’t that exciting. All the songs had a similar, whiny tone to them and there wasn't much variety. Heck, before one song Carraba said “This song’s about a girl...” What? Whoa there, wait a minute, Carraba, you've got me confused here because I thought they were all about a girl. Carraba’s singing remained constantly whiny, lamenting about how someone’s hair was everywhere, sitting all alone, and how all the songs were sad songs, punctuated by screams that would make a grown man break down in laughter. A colleague of mine wondered why he hadn’t committed suicide yet, and I was hoping someone would show him a way out.

Dashboard bastardized the concept of encores by finishing their “last” song and saying “We'll be back in a minute, this is the fake ending.” What ever happened to encores being performed because the audience wanted the band to keep playing? At one point Carraba stated that they were giving away free t-shirts and immediately a mob swarmed the merchandise booth, forgetting temporarily that a performance was going on.

Carraba proved to be the epitome of emo; if you looked up the word “emo” in a dictionary, you’ll find next to the entry a picture of him and the entry will say “See also: WANKER.” Sure enough, this is a recipe for success; Dashboard has been on MTV, and the majority of the audience members were teenage/young adult girls who love his heartfelt compassion. As my colleague said, the Hatch Shell was a nice venue that worked with Hot Rod Circuit but didn’t fit with Dashboard Confessional; Dashboard's music is the type you'd listen in a coffee house, although the touch of four guys bouncing up and down and one crowd surfer made the performance that more special. Thank goodness the Dashboard Confessional/Hot Rod Circuit show was free, or I would’ve been angry that I didn’t use the money on a Slayer album.