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Volume 69, Issue 18, Thursday, September 18, 2003

Arts & Entertainment

Dashboard's new sound a misstep

By Ray Hafner
The Daily Cougar

Even on a school night, Dashboard Confessional managed to draw 1,000 or so of its mostly high-school-age fans to its first Houston concert in more than a year. Each one was eager to see the band try to answer the question that's been hanging over the group since it found sudden success in the mainstream.

Can a band that built its success on one style of music plot a new course and still retain its old fans?

Dixie Ann Dalton/The Daily Cougar

Dashboard Confessional's lead singer Chris Carrabba couldn't recreate the intimacy he shared with his fans at past concerts Tuesday at Verizon Wireless.

Well, it can certainly try, but it doesn't look good.

Every aspect of the show was calculated to help lead singer Chris Carrabba leave his roots as a singer-songwriter renown for intimate, intensely personal and tragic takes on the special problems of modern love and become the lead singer of a rock band.

It was a tricky balancing act, where the band, comprised of Carrabba and three dudes dressed all in black,looking like GAP ad rejects, literally alternated from new stuff to old stuff, one after the other. The lighting even kept those few fans who might not have known informed by coloring the stage a somber blue for old and vibrant pink and purple for new.

This back-and-forth motion, during which the rest of the band left the stage for Carrabba to emote alone, only to return and jam out to something from the band's latest album A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar, had a dizzying effect. As a result, the show built up little momentum.

Carrabba's shows have always been sing-a-longs where the duet of his voice and the audience's combine to create a transcendental emotional moment. But in the cavernous Verizon Theater, even his oldest classics like "Bitter Pill" couldn't create this harmony.

It's not that the new stuff is bad, it's that the old stuff is so good, and the fans know it. Carrabba is no doubt frustrated that he can't move forward.

The best moment of the show was when they finally played two oldies, the breakout hit "Screaming Infidelities" and the much-loved "Again I Go Unnoticed," back to back. For a fleeting moment, it felt almost as intimate as the shows in 2001, one of which was at the Oven, the other at Rice University.

But when the band switched back to their new material, the shaggy-headed boys who had been screaming along suddenly went quiet. 

The hour-long set left so many favorites unsung that when it was over a gaggle of girls left singing "Best Deceptions" all on their own. That song used to be a centerpiece, played during the encore of the set, but the new Dashboard seemed not to miss it all.

A band with the opposite problem, where the new stuff is so good no one misses the old, was opening act Brand New. While Dashboard is going from a contemplative, honest artistic experience and becoming a pop rock band, Brand New is becoming better in an artistic sense.

And judging from the fans' reaction Tuesday night, Dashboard could learn a lesson. Brand New began as a fairly standard pop-punk band, albeit a notch above its contemporaries like NFG, known for anti-female lyrics. But during the set the band proved its ability as a more plaintive rock outfit capable of producing songs and lyrics that convey feeling. 

An emo band to the core, Brand New was the most exciting act (MxPx barely woke up for their set), and proves you can only gain fans by changing for the better.

Dashboard Confessional

Verizon Wireless Amphitheater

The verdict: To Mr. Carrabba: be real, or the fans will find something that is.

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