Enough time has passed since the late-millennial days of hardcore/pop-punk/indie/"emo" (cringe) that, in 2011, there's a healthy market for nostalgia shows aimed at people in their late 20s and early 30s. It's easy to have mixed feelings about this. Every generation thinks the music of its teens/early 20s is better than whatever is current, and looking back on it too soon can reveal in cold light that, really, that's not necessarily true.
That's not necessarily what happened Thursday night at Propaganda during the first reunion show in six years for Further Seems Forever, the breakout vehicle for Dashboard Confessional's Chris Carrabba. If anything, the evening proved that certain talents — John Ralston's in particular — deserve more attention. But there were no auspices of anything current or forward-looking about the show. Virtually all of the material played was unapologetically, sonically time-stamped.
The best of the songs still popped, but most of them were based on a late-'90s brand of circling, repetitive song structure interspersed with jangly, vaguely jazzy parts that went out of vogue a while back. (Maybe in a year or two, the kids into the current style of the Warped Tour will rediscover these slightly older sounds and start "vintage"-sounding emo/pop bands?)
Anyway, Legends of Rodeo, led by the still very much locally active John Ralston, opened the show for a relatively brief set of throwbacks with almost a VH1 Storytellers type of format. It was appropriate to the mood of the night, with Ralston taking breaks between songs to recount days past.
In one such anecdote, he remembered aloud a tour stop with Further Seems Forever in South Dakota that turned out to be at a church and found the bands calling the cops on themselves to cancel the show. (Further Seems Forever's lineage from acts like Strongarm, its albums for Christian label Tooth & Nail, and its performances at Christian mega-events like the Cornerstone festival didn't exactly paint them as church-haters back then, but OK.)
At another point, Ralston asked who remembered Club Q in Davie — that was pretty much everyone, as it was the all-ages ground zero during the teen years of the audience's general age group. "It's 1998! It's 1998!" someone yelled soon after, and it sure felt like it. Still, in many ways, this was good — the songs still came across with a definite pure, youthful innocence, and many of them had a hooky pop sound that must have been ahead of its time.
Ralston is a true South Florida talent, and though he lost his national-label distribution, hopefully as an independent act, he can regain velocity for his new material. (Actually, go buy his new Shadows of the Summertime LP soon, because after this vinyl pressing, it's gone.)
After a short break — during which Further Seems Forever set up conspicuously without any help from erstwhile frontman Carrabba — the stars of the evening took the stage. The show was billed as sold out, with some 250-ish tickets sold for tiny Propaganda. It didn't feel that way, but a crush of fervent fans definitely appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, from the opening notes. All seemed intent on documenting the show too. The front was a mass of cell-phone and camcorder viewfinders through opening number "The Moon Is Down."
"Man, we've got some old shit to get through today," Carrabba said, and that sense of urgency made the set list feel like something of a sprint. The band pretty much rushed through "Vengeance Factor," one of its bigger national semihits, thanks to its appearance on an installation of The Emo Diaries compilations. Maybe that's what broke the snare drum, which led to a brief pause in the action but didn't really slow the rest of the evening.
This blip also helped to break the need to meta-observe the show through viewfinders, and by "A New Desert Life," hitting the record button was replaced by fist-pumping and singing along. Carrabba seemed touched by this, even a bit awkwardly so.
In the dark ages, before emo as a term got usurped and turned into a dirty word, histrionic displays of feeling were accepted, even encouraged, in fans and bands alike. And during this particular song, Carrabba played to that time period to the fullest, pushing himself away from the microphone, losing the words, closing his eyes, and looking distressingly close to actually crying. How period-accurate!
Still, a welcome surprise was a new song by the band, "Wait for the Ashes to Cool," which may or may not have been written a while ago but was definitely unreleased. (It was hard to understand the muffled between-song banter at this point.) It was more power rock of the spill-your-guts variety, and Carrabba attacked it with sweaty gusto. With so much of his material as Dashboard Confessional turning to tempered adult contemporary rock, it was exciting to hear him at his rawest again.