Dashboard Confessional (sort of) and Augustana (not)

Chris Carrabba

 This concert at In the Venue was billed as “Dashboard Confessional (solo) with Augustana and John Ralston.”  We didn’t know what to make of that, but we like Augustana a lot, so we went.  

Unfortunately, Augustana didn’t show up.  There was no explanation.  The merch guy said they had some emergency and had to head home.  No refunds were offered.  I don’t mean to complain or anything, but that sucks.  My hatred of In the Venue is increasing by the hour.  I’m irritated with Augustana too. 

Augustana

What is the deal guys?  Thought you’d go to Boston?  I hope you’re ok and everything and if there was an actual emergency then please accept my sympathy and I really hope everthing turns out all right.  If there was no emergency and you just bailed, well, don’t expect me to shell out money for tickets again without a signed commitment that you’ll actually be there.  Please be aware that you disappointed a lot of people. 

I have paid to see Augustana twice before (once in San Diego) and was glad to pay again, but not anymore.  Not until I get some info on what caused them to stand us up. 

As for the rest of the night: John Ralston (who is apparently a label-mate and fellow Floridian of Dashboard) opened the show and was quite entertaining, especially for someone I have never heard of before.  I like his songwriting and his band is made up of some talented musicians.  His new album, Sorry Vampire, is worth checking out.  It’s new and is available on Napster and iTunes.

After Ralston and his boys packed it in, There was a long delay while the stage was reset, with microphones, a few guitars, a large keyboard and…not much else.  Uh-oh.  Yep, you guessed it, “solo” meant that Chris Carrabbas, the singer/songwriter that is the heart, soul, brain and cover-boy face of Dashboard Confessional, would be playing this gig alone. 

Sure-nuff, Chris eventually wandered on stage (after the enormous crowd jamming the place had amused itself for some time by staging a sing-and-dance-along to the tracks being played over the PA system) by himself, picked up his acoustic guitar and proceeded to work his way through the Dashboard Confessional catalogue unplugged-style. 

I don’t normally have any automatic objections to this kind of show, but there are some things that you have just got to do to make this kind of thing work.  Let’s run through that list:

1. Tell people up-front what you are doing, so they know what they’re getting.

This would normally include informing us of the fact that Augustana wasn’t going to be part of the show, but I’ll let that slide for now on the unproven assumption that no one knew that before showtime.  What they did know, however, was that this was not going to be a normal Dashboard Confessional show (and no, in my mind, putting “solo” in parentheses after the name of the band doesn’t cut it).  Just tell us it’s going to be “Chris Carrabbas unplugged” or “Chris Carrabbas acoustic” or whatever.  Don’t masquerade it by using the name of the band.  There was no band.  It was just Chris.  His guitarist did help out on electric guitar and keyboard on a few numbers, and Chris himself played electric guitar a couple of times, but mostly, it was a “Just Chris!” acoustic gig, and it should have been billed that way. 

2.  Confine yourself to small, intimate clubs. 

Now, In the Venue is not exacly the Colliseum, but it’s main room is rather cavernous for an acoustic show, with a balcony and high ceilings and lots of extra odd spaces for the sound to get lost.  Which it did.  If you’re going to be in a bigger room, crank the volume at least, so everyone has a chance of hearing you.

3.  Switch it up a little.

Unless you want to run the risk of boring people silly, you can’t just stand there and play your guitar and sing.  You have to vary the presentation more than usual.  Chris did some of this, to his credit, but I would have liked to see more guest vocalists, more use of the keyboard, more instrumentalists joining Chris on various tracks.  That would have made it a show.  Speaking of which…

4.  Put on a show.

An acoustic show, more than other kinds of concerts, requires a little more showmanship.  Chris has charisma and stage presence, but he didn’t give himself a lot to work with.  He relied mostly on witty banter.  I don’t think we need to reiterate the fact that witty banter does not a show make.  I’m aware that Chris began his career, as many musicians did, with pretty much just a guitar and a stool, but that’s no excuse for going back to those days now that he has additional resources.  Nostalgia and purist ethos aside, there’s nothing particularly virtuous about doing a stripped-down show just to prove you can. 

The final objection I have to all of this is that Dashboard’s sound just doesn’t really lend itself to this kind of show.  A lot of their hits have big emotions driven by big crescendos of sound from the guitars and rhythm section.  You lose all that in an acoustic show, and there’s nothing you’re getting as a compensation.  If Chris were a great singer, you would be getting to hear his great voice in return for losing the other parts of the band, but anyone who knows anything about Dashboard knows that Chris’s genius is not in his voice.  He’s not a bad singer, especially, but his voice is not huge and tends to be a little quavery.  To add to this problem, his fans are hardcore fans and know every syllable by heart, so what you are really getting at a concert like this is a big group sing-along where you hear little except the crowd’s voices.  And that’s not worth the price of a ticket unless your idea of a great evening is singing with Chris and a couple thousand of his closest friends.  It’s not mine, but I will admit that there is something kinda charming about a roomful of people belting out:  “Your hair, it’s everywhere/ Screaming infidelities /And taking its wear.”

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6 Responses

  1. No Augustana really sucked..I was totally disappointed with In The Venue. I will never go to a show there again. If you weren’t up front the sound sucked… Dashboard Confessional” Solo Tour” if you knew anything about it you would have know it was just Chris…I’ve seen Dashboard Confessional three times and the crowd singing is just how Chris likes it.. I’m a huge fan but I agree, I payed to hear Chris.

  2. I don’t know what to tell you about Augustana. I went to the conert in Worcester, Mass. and it was pretty awesome. Augustana was there intact and a wonderful treat. But, you cannot judge Dashboard Confessional for what you don’t know about it. You are obviously a much bigger fan of Augustana than you are of Dashboard and may not be aware that Dashboard Confessional is basically Chris’s stage name for all intents and purposes. That has been his name since he began; therefore, by billing the show as “Dashboard Confessional (solo)”, it was entirely accurate. Furthermore, this was a tour returning to his roots before the addition of extensive electric guitar and band mates (his first two albums and now the most recent, as opposed to his third and fourth ones). He was promoting his most recent album, which is acoustic and pretty much a solo effort. Sometimes, it’s a good idea to wait for your favorite artists to go on their own headlining tours, or not to judge those that you don’t know so harshly.

  3. Kay: I get that Chris was “getting back to his roots” (he actually said that during the concert) and I have no objection to acoustic shows as a concept, but it didn’t fit this venue. It’s a caverous place and the sound was just lost. As far as his latest album being acoustic, well, that may be true of some of the songs, but most have either drums or some other accompaniment besides just his acoustic guitar. Those songs don’t sound the same stripped down, and neither do the older songs that I’m used to hearing with a full band. I think the show could have worked in a smaller, more intimate club, but In The Venue is no place for a solo acoustic performance by anyone.

    The point you make about how the show was billed is a good one, but unless you have followed Chris closely, you wouldn’t know that. For those of us less familiar with his MO, further explanation would have been nice.

  4. I’ve never read a stupider review.

    Augustana was not on the bill for that show. They went home for one of their daughters one year birthday.

    As far as Dashboard goes, Chris is the band. Everyone else is a rotating stage for musicians he’s friends with. He’s said this numerous times. He’s allowed to call himself whatever he wants. Obviously (solo) implies by himself. The In The Venue show was not his greatest by any degree, but is far and above better than the mediocre pop bands that usually habitat in the venue.

    Seriously it sounds like you were mad augustana didn’t show and had a nasty night because of it.

  5. It sounds to me like you haven’t read many reviews.

    Augustana was on the bill. That’s why we bought tickets. On the website we linked to, it said:

    “Dashboard Confessional (solo) with Augustana and John Ralston.”

    If that’s not “on the bill” I don’t know what is.

    Maybe you’re right that my disappointment about Augustana made me less inclined to be fair to Chris, but I wasn’t the only one who felt that the sound was terrible.

    And saying that Chris is “allowed to call himself whatever he wants” is irrelevant. Of course that’s true, but it doesn’t help those who are not “in the know” when they go expecting the full band they heard on the album and get just Chris. They should have added “Chris Carrabbas solo tour” or something in parentheses, not just the word “solo.”

    You also failed to address the most important issue: these songs just don’t sound that great without a full band, so why play them that way?

  6. Thanks for telling this article and making it public

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