Dashboard Confessional -The Deaf Institute Manchester (11th November 2019)

It’s no secret that the Dashboard Confessional project is Chris Carrabba bearing his soul. While a sizeable portion of the Dashboard records now feature the fleshed out sound of a full band; the act has always been in its element when it consists of the stripped back sound of just Carrabba and an acoustic guitar.

Dashboard Confessional has always been an intimate listening experience, and an acoustic show with only a couple of hundred fans only heightens this feeling.

Hitting the stage looking like a lithe emo scarecrow, Chris Carrabba gets straight down to things, by playing the maudlin opening riff of ‘the Best Deceptions’. This isn’t a barnstorming set opener, designed to get a crowd moving. This is an introverted, angsty track about heartbreak. Almost like a decades-old diary entry, Carrabba spills his guts to the crowd. As this is a comparatively small gathering of fans-almost like a meeting of old friends-every lyric is sung back tenderly. As always, Dashboard is as much self-help and cathartic release, as it is favourite artist.

However, following the opener, there is a welcome surprise to the evening. After confirming that the set will end with the standard ‘Hands Down’, Carrabba leaves the rest of the set up to the audience-i.e., if they shout out the titles of their favourite Dashboard songs, he will play them. This is a somewhat risky strategy-Carrabba has nearly two decade’s worth of material to his name-but it truly feels like something is being ‘given back’ to the fans.

As the fans get to pick which tracks Carrabba plays, it’s no surprise that the set is heavy on older material. In fact, with the exception of ‘Heart Beat Here’, from last year’s ‘Crooked Shadows’, none of the tracks played were released after 2006. This is definitely a night for long-time fans.

That being said, Carrabba plays old favourites and deep-cuts with equal skill. Tracks such as ‘The Swiss Army Romance’ and ‘Screaming Infidelities’ get multiple requests from the audience; when Carrabba does play them, everyone sings along with earnest joy. However, softer album tracks, including ‘Dusk and Summer’ and ‘Carry This Picture’ are loved just as much by the crowd. If anything, the audience sings these songs back louder, and with more urgency.

Carrabba has always been one of the more talented vocalists in the emo genre-his voice often jumping from a soft croon to an anguished yelp within the space of a few bars, on record. This is no different live, and the only time Carrabba lets up, is when he steps away from the mic to let the crowd sing sections of their favourites. It’s clear that as far as the Dashboard frontman is concerned, these songs belong as much to his fans, as they do to him.  

Indeed, with the intimate setting of the Deaf Institute, the acoustic guitar, and the fact that the fans dictate the set list, this feels almost like a gathering of friends, rather than a rock show. While the full band version of Dashboard Confessional are one of the best live acts going, it’s clear that this is the right environment for these songs, and that this is how Carrabba envisioned the songs when he wrote them.

As advertised earlier in the show, the set ends with ‘Hands Down’-Carrabba’s trademark song about a perfect teenage romance. He maintains that this was the best day of his life, and delivers the song with such sincerity, that you have no problem believing him.

While Carrabba stated that he’d be back in 2020, with the full band, for the band’s 20th anniversary, what tonight has proven is that these songs remain timeless.