Bandwidth

When is an emo-punk not an emo-punk?

You know, evolution is a funny thing. The vagaries of climate and isolation at the tip of our peninsula have given us such quirky critters as the manatee, the roseate spoonbill, and the sensitive singer-songwriter who happens to be revered by a sect of teenage punk rockers.

Yes, I'm talking about theDashboard Confessional, which began as a side project for Chris Carrabba, former frontman of local emo-core bands Further Seems Forever and the Vacant Andys, but has since become his full-time gig. Carrabba's stripped-down, solo sadcore songs first showed up a couple years back on a locally released EP called Drowning, then on last year's full-length, Swiss Army Romance, on Broward County's own Drive-Thru Records. In October, Carrabba announced he was leaving Further Seems Forever. (He's still featured prominently on the band's forthcoming album, to be released in March on the Seattle-based Tooth & Nail label). Now that his Dashboard Confessional has been signed to Vagrant Record (an indie-punk powerhouse with signees like Rocket from the Crypt and the Get Up Kids), the frontman is toiling away on another full-length release.

If the loyalty Carrabba inspires in these parts is any indication, that record should do just fine. At least 100 reverent die-hards attended a Dashboard Confessional show at Ray's Downtown Blues in West Palm Beach January 14. In a scene reminiscent of Rod Stewart's audience participation­ packed "Maggie Mae," the crowd clustered in front of the stage to sing softly every single tune with the author-performer. Had Carrabba been stricken with laryngitis, the show still would've gone on.

"Is that wild or what?" marveled promoter Grant Hall, while manning the door that night. "It was like church!"

"Isn't it so neat?" agrees Carrabba on his cell phone a few days later. "That's why it's sort of a misnomer to call Dashboard Confessional a solo project, because the crowd's as big a part of it as I am."

Carrabba's Elliot Smith­meets­Jimmy Eat World­via­Simon and Garfunkel hybrid has made an unbreakable connection with young devotees. He boasts a core group of about 50 fans who follow him religiously to each and every gig, trading lyrics and guitar tabs back and forth on Dashboard Confessional message boards on the Net. "It warms my heart and makes doing all of this worthwhile," says Carrabba.

Joining Carrabba on several numbers were Jolie Lindholm from the Rocking Horse Winner -- "I love her voice more than anyone else's," he gushes -- and Dan Bonebrake. The latter, Carrabba's ex­ bass-playing bandmate from the Vacant Andys, is soon to become a permanent member of Dashboard Confessional, along with drummer Mike Marsh, last heard wood-shredding with the Agency. Obviously that group dynamic will change the ecclesiastical, exquisitely personal nature of Dashboard Confessional's shows.

The group's upcoming concerts will include a midsection performed by the trio, bookended by solo segments with Carrabba crisply strumming in stool-perching mode. That's what national fans of considerably tougher-sounding outfits will see when the 'Fessional helps shore up an emo-core dream bill featuring Face to Face, H2O, and Snapcase. The 30-plus­ city tour starts in Jacksonville January 31, hits Orbit in Boynton Beach the following night, then visits New York City, Seattle, Minneapolis, and everywhere in between before wrapping up in early March.

Observers appear perplexed as to why the Dashboard Confessional is so effective at warming the hardened hearts of tough guys with sensitive sides. "He's a singer-songwriter," muses a mystified Hall, "but he isn't." Carrabba acknowledges the weirdness as well, before adding, "But in a way it's not. The first crowd that ever embraced my stuff was the hardcore crowd."

Somehow Carrabba's painfully personal songs strike a raw nerve in the angstier-than-thou community. "If they do, that's awesome," he says. "But that was never the plan. I've been doing music a long time, but this is the only time I've ever had kids come up to me and say, "I cried at your show tonight.' I'm so passionate about the kids because they're so passionate about me. I've been in bands that have had fans before. But this isn't the same."

Carrabba's fans are considerably more fervent than the substantial following enjoyed by the Rocking Horse Winner, which performed prior to Dashboard Confessional at Ray's (and shares a producer in James Paul Wisener). The Horsies now boast a fuller live sound thanks to the addition of Oliver Chapoy on guitar and vibes. Although this young band is often unsteady and still growing into its sound, Bandwidth predicts it won't be long before the Rocking Horse Winner cultivates a continentwide following, just as Carrabba is poised to do.

In the meantime the Dashboard Confessional is in the driver's seat. Does transforming the one-man project into a real band diminish the chances of witnessing Carrabba in his solo mode?

"Yeah, it's unlikely that kids around the country will see that," he confirms. "But it's probably pretty likely that kids around here will see it, because I still like to do it. I can tell the other guys to go home and take the night off. They won't be able to do that in Seattle."

 
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