Review: Dashboard Confessional and New Found Glory at the Middle East Downstairs

Dashboard Confessional performs "Don't Wait." See a gallery of Jerome Eno's live show photos here.

Chris Carrabba has a lot of feelings, and he doesn't care who knows it. The Dashboard Confessional frontman and emo's reigning poster child has been both worshiped and vilified, in equal measure, for his penchant for raw odes about the many ways a heart can break. But take one look at the packed crowd at Dashboard's acoustic show at the Middle East this past Thursday, and you've got to admit -- whether you love it, hate it, or secretly listen to it in the privacy of your bedroom -- Carrabba is on to something.

The night's sole openers were fellow punk-poppers and long-time Dashboard friends New Found Glory. For me, the burning question of the night was whether these boys -- whose shows are markedly loud, raucous, and enjoyably messy -- could pull off an acoustic set. The band seemed to echo my skepticism, admitting that Carrabba had cajoled them into joining this tour. Turns out, we had nothing to worry about. Dressed to impress (or perhaps to kill) in matching tuxedo T-shirts, NFG took the room by storm, hitting all their marks as the audience shouted along. Frontman Jordan Pundik then introduced Dashboard Confessional, recalling that he "had his first beer, at age 18" at Carrabba's apartment. For their last number, Pundik and crew then gave a nod to the holiday season by performing a snappy version of "The Christmas Song."

When Carrabba and Dashboard guitarist John Lefler ambled onstage, teenage girls and grown men alike screamed themselves hoarse. Dressed casually in a brimmed hat and flannel shirt over a worn grey tee, Carrabba grinned sheepishly at the crowd, looking a bit bemused by the reception. From there on out, it was a freaking lovefest in there. The entire crowd swayed, sang, and practically moaned along with every song. Next to me, a floppy-haired young guy in a black pea coat (who I initially assumed had been dragged to the show by a persuasive girlfriend) went apoplectic right from the first note. I watched as he danced convulsively, eyes squeezed tightly shut, and sang along to crowd favorite "Screaming Infidelities." Three burly guys who looked like they had come straight from the office, or maybe a fantasy football pool, were so overcome (and inebriated) that by mid-show, they had their arms around each other, mouthing the words aloud. What is this power that Carrabba wields?

Perhaps it's got something to do with the set of lungs Carrabba's got on him. His stripped-down sound invokes some pretty compelling emotions. By the end of the show, I was succumbing to his thrall myself, singing along to "Don't Wait" almost as effusively Pea Coat over there to my right. Carrabba, who started Dashboard Confessional as an acoustic project, just a boy and his guitar, is at his best without all the bells and whistles of production. His voice -- strong, clear, and distinctive -- was made for an acoustic show. Many of the songs on the night's set actually sounded better in the depths of the Middle East's low-ceilinged Downstairs than they do on the album. I heard "Get Me Right," a track off Dashboard's most recent album, 2009's Alter the Ending, for the first time Thursday night; on a later listen, I concluded that it should really only be heard unplugged.

At the end of his roughly 90-minute set, the crowd was sorry to let Carrabba go -- and the feeling seemed mutual. He and Lefler took the stage once more for a much-appreciated encore, playing "Hands Down," a song the crowd had been howling for all night. Right before bringing the house down with his live rendition, Carrabba described "Hands Down" as a song about "the best day I ever had in my whole life." It seems safe to say that Thursday's performance delivered a few fans the best night of theirs.
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