PHOENIX — 20 years ago, Dashboard Confessional was started as a side project of Chris Carrabba, the lead singer and guitarist who also fronts Further Seems Forever. In those 20 years, Dashboard Confessional has been a soundtrack for many; the songs for triumph in the high moments, and the songs for the low moments to help them rise back up. The tour that brought Piebald and Dashboard Confessional to The Van Buren on this night was a celebration of these moments and memories that these fans had gathered to relive.
First out onto the stage was Piebald. Much like recently reunited The Format – who, coincidentally enough, they opened for during the final tour as a band – Piebald went onto a hiatus after one final show in 2008, though they have played a handful of one-off shows since then. Frontman Travis Shettel, guitarist Aaron Stuart, bassist Andrew Bonner, and drummer Luke Garro released a Christmas album titled A Christmas (seven-inch) Adventure. It is a vinyl of three Christmas songs, an odd choice for a band that seems to pride itself in being quite odd, so perhaps it’s a perfect choice for them.
As the show started, it quickly became quite apparent how differently these guys do things. As the first song started, suddenly a head popped up over the crowd: Dana Bollen, who would play the role of hype man/tour manager/merch guy. Throughout the set, he would go from standing on the barricade, flailing his arms around to get the crowd pumped, up to the stage to play some excellent cowbell, succeeding to inspire the crowd to flail along with him when he returned to the barricade. It was a genius touch, and a memorable addition to their excellent show.
At home on stage, Shettel bantered, at one point hosting an impromptu Q&A session with a crowd that was enjoying their quirky performance. At one point someone yelled out, “You’re my favorite!” to which Shettel pointed at them and exclaimed, “You’re MY favorite! OUR favorite, actually!”
All of the songs they played were 12 years old, but yet felt so new. Piebald has managed to make their music sound timeless. Times have changed, and now the lyrics to the song “The Monkey Versus the Robot” have a much different and deeper meaning; one that anyone and everyone who works a 9-5 grind has felt at some point: “Work should not control our every minute, Eat to work, sleep to work, live to work, work.”
It is not unusual to attend a show and find yourself confronted with a band trying entirely too hard to relate to you and the crowd around you, forced dialog and ham-fisted lyrics. Piebald is none of these things. Rather, they are a quirky band that is at home playing songs that aged beautifully, with the rare ability to walk onto a stage in front of an audience who made up of many who may never had heard of them, and win them over in under 45 minutes.
As Piebald cleared the stage and the preparations were finished for Dashboard Confessional, the lights dimmed and “Sweetness” by Jimmy Eat World started playing. A casual observer would have assumed that the crowd was there for a Jimmy Eat World concert with the reaction the song generated. The crowd gleefully and loudly followed the lyrical instructions to “Sing it back,” demonstrating that there truly is never a bad time to play a Jimmy Eat World song.
To attend a Dashboard Confessional concert is to realize that your neighbor is probably going to spend a good deal of the show singing at the top of their lungs. That’s ok, because you likely will be doing the same at some point. This is the magic of Dashboard Confessional: Chris Carrabba is the rare songwriter who can encapsulate not just the words of the moments in life that we all have, he manages to paint a masterpiece with the music behind it.
Jim Adkins of Jimmy Eat World has a similar talent, and it could be argued that if everyone from this generation were to compile a soundtrack of their lives, it is likely they would have at least one song from these two bands on it. They have mastery of their lyrics and music, and we are an awestruck audience that has not fully realized how lucky we are.
To call what was experienced on this night a concert does not quite do it justice, as it was really a journey through space and time with each song. “Vindicated,” a song from the soundtrack of the 2004 movie Spider-man 2, took us into the past, though it doesn’t feel like that song can get its drivers license this year. Carrabba was a skillful guide through the trip, knowing exactly when to step back from the microphone to allow the crowd the opportunity to belt out their favorite lyrics – saying at one point they sang beautifully – and when to step in and to tell a story before the next stop in this fanciful tour.
Halfway through the set he traded his electric guitar for an acoustic and performed alone onstage. Carrabba is an extraordinarily talented guitar player, bringing quite a few guitars on tour and often switching up during the show, but his mastery shines the brightest when he plays acoustic. His vocals were also on full display, holding a note for a superhuman length of time, holding until the cheers finally drowned him out.
As the rest of the band rejoined Carrabba, he introduced them as Scott Schoenbeck on the bass, Armon Jay also on the guitar, Chris Kamrada on the drums, and Dane Poppin who alternated between the keyboard and guitar. The journey that Carrabba took the audience on would look drastically different without the band, which he introduced twice during the show.
The reluctant, final stops on this journey included a rendition of “Hands Down” that felt something akin to a religious experience, with almost every person in the venue singing out as loudly as they possibly could. It was a celebration of Dashboard Confessional – a celebration of two decades worth of music and meaning, of memories, and of the songs that seemed to know what we needed to hear when we didn’t know ourselves. It was also a sold-out crowd saying “Thank you” to Carrabba in a way that means the most to an artist: by knowing every single word of every single song and serenading him throughout the show. The tour ends on 3/28 in Nashville, TN at the Ryman Auditorium.
Photography: Andrew Marshall
Dashboard Confessional & Piebald – The Van Buren 2-7-20
Photography © Andrew Marshall
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